United Nations: The Language Competitive Examination (LCE)

Reprinted with gracious permission of the author. First printed in the ITI Bulletin.
By Maha El-Metwally

To become a staff interpreter at the United Nations, one must pass the Language Competitive Examination (LCE). This exam has always had a low pass rate that seldom exceeded 20%. With many staff interpreters retiring by 2018, a shortage of qualified interpreters in certain language combinations exists and needs to be addressed.

This led the UN to launch an Outreach Programme in 2007. Helping candidates prepare for the LCE, and getting better acquainted with the specificity of the UN work environment are among the objectives of that programme. Against this background, initiatives were developed in some booths to better prepare candidates for the LCE. In this article, I will look at the initiatives of the Arabic and French booths.

The Arabic booth conducted a 6-month training from July 2015 – January 2016. I interviewed Mr Ashraf Kamal, Chief of the Arabic Section at the UNHQ in New York, to learn more about that training. He started by shedding light on the background: “In the past, we always held LCEs in the Arabic booth but the success rate was usually low: 1-2 people. That was a big problem because the exams are costly and we also have the issue with staff interpreters retiring and we were facing difficulty in replacing them particularly in the English-Arabic language combination. We have been lobbying the administration for 10 to 15 years to allow us to hold training program but they always told us that there was no budget for this. At one point, the number of staff interpreters went down so much that the cost of recruiting freelancers became higher than the cost of covering the training for six months! We were asking for $1 million and eventually received $840,000 then we started the process of recruiting trainees. We advertised it on the UN careers portal, social media and at the universities we have memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with. We held 400 preliminary interviews with potential candidates who also had to do exams. Eleven were chosen but 1 dropped out after two months because the pressure was too high. We had seven trainees working with English and Arabic and three with French and Arabic. With the regard to the composition of the training, the trainees worked 8-9 hours daily and they had homework plus work to do over the weekend. They were trained on at-sight interpreting and also online for speeches. Starting the third week of the training, they had to do 2-3 hours per day of booth work. For every session, they were monitored by senior interpreters or lecturers from MoU universities, who were also recruited to work as freelancers. Every 2 1/2 months we held a mock exam that had the exact characteristics of the real exam in terms of duration, complexity, etc.

“With many staff interpreters retiring by 2018, a shortage of qualified interpreters in certain language combinations exists…”

As to the curriculum, we covered everything related to the UN committees, Security Council, ECOSOC and all the topics the UN discusses. To give you an example: in the first week we started by a two-day preparation on the Security Council. The trainees were asked to read everything on the Security Council and the sanctions committee. Then they had a briefing from the director of the Security Council for 45 minutes and they had the chance to ask questions for two hours on the elements that they could not find during their preparation. This was followed by three days of Security Council speeches both live and recorded. We applied the same method to all other subjects. The trainees would always have 2 or 3 senior interpreters to listen to them while they worked in the booths. Sometimes, half of them would go into the booth and the other half would give them feedback. I wanted them to become comfortable with critiquing each other’s performances. We used recorded speeches which are available on the webcast but also if there was a meeting that was being held live, and depending on that nature of the meeting, I would take them to the Security Council for instance and place them in three dummy booths. By the third month, trainees who made good progress were allowed to work in live situations.

We announced an exam at the end of the course and for the first time in 35 years, 13 candidates passed; eight from the training and five from outside. They were all recruited so this enabled us to fill all the vacancies.”

One of the trainees who passed the LCE for Arabic, Dr Marwa Shamy, talked to me about the difference the training course made for her, she said: “The training allowed me to gain a deep understanding of the institutional setting of the United Nations, familiarize myself with the format of different types of meetings, and enhance my knowledge of a number of relevant topics. In the exam situation, this knowledge helped me contextualize the exam speeches and facilitated the understanding of the underlying message. In addition to raising the trainees’ awareness of the UN context in general, the training dealt extensively with the nitty-gritty of relaying the message from the source to the target language. Trainers suggested concrete strategies to deal with the different challenges that we might encounter in the booth. Some of the difficulties are non-language specific, others were more associated with the structural discrepancy between English and Arabic. An example of a non-language-specific challenge is the high delivery rate, which due to limited speaking time, has become the norm rather than the exception. Trainees were instructed, for instance, to reduce the lag to one second to be able to keep pace with the speaker. The duration of the training allowed me to practice the recommended strategies and automate them, so that by the end of the programme, coping with such difficulties had become second nature and did not take up much processing capacity. Other challenges include dealing with different accents or relaying the flowery Arabic style into a terse English style. The training also gave me an insight into the interpreting norms prevailing in the organisation. UN interpreters are held to very high standards when it comes to completeness. Only minimal recourse to omissions or generalizations is condoned. Points are deducted in the Competitive Language Examination, for instance, when a noun is preceded by four non-synonymous adjectives and the interpreter only renders three. Take the example of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. When the future Palestinian state is mentioned, I need to use the four adjectives pertaining to it: an independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous state. Overall, the training provided the appropriate conditions for us to increase our linguistic resources and enhance our interpreting skills through strategic action. But ultimately, the result depended on what each candidate made of it, i.e. to what extent they were aware of what needed to be upgraded and whether they engaged in deliberate practice to hone their skills.”

Mr Tarek Abboud is another trainee who did the Arabic booth training, passed the LCE successfully and is now a staff interpreter at UNHQ. He described the difference the training made for him as follows: “the training provided me with a unique environment to grow and experiment with different techniques, an environment that I had not been afforded earlier. I was not given a set formula to follow. I was provided with an abundance of material, time and space to make mistakes and improve individually. Thanks to the training, I can now look at my performance from a critical perspective and alter it accordingly, which is an important skill for any interpreter willing and ready to grow professionally.”

The French booth had two initiatives at UNHQ and at the UN office in Vienna (UNOV). Ms Alice Ryckmans, French interpreter as well as Outreach Focal Point and MoU Coordinator, shared with me information about the 9-week traineeship the French booth at UNHQ organised. Out of 175 applicants, 7 were chosen to participate in the traineeship; 4 with Spanish and English and 3 with Russian and English. The training course consisted mainly of 3-hour sessions, six times a week, with a full day on Wednesdays. The participants were offered a range of exercises, from sight translation to simultaneous speeches (with or without text). Most of the material used was original recordings of UN speeches. As with the Arabic booth training, the participants were briefed on UN specific topics. In addition, a special stress management workshop was organized with the help of a staff counselor from the Medical Service Division. The French booth had 10 successful candidates for the LCE that followed. Even though only one of them had participated in the traineeship, 7 had participated in previous unpaid internships organized since 2012. This means that efforts do not always bear fruit immediately and that the whole initiative has to be seen on the longer term.
“…it requires adequate training and preparation for the result to be satisfactory.”

Dr Marie Diur, Head of Interpretation at UNOV, participated as a jury member to the marking of the 2013 LCE. Based on that experience, she concluded that, “LCE speeches present specific challenges. Lacking the knowledge about the way the UN is structured or understanding the differences among the Committees might represent an added difficulty.” As a result, she designed a three-day intensive course that focuses on UN terminology and features of speeches in an attempt to help candidates prepare more effectively for the LCE, thereby increasing their chances of passing. The course is divided into two exercises. The first exercise looks at navigating the UN website, using the information in the Secretary General’s report and the monthly work programme of the Security Council, regional groups at the UN, researching world affairs, preparing glossaries and sight translation. The second exercise aims to teach trainees that the information given at the beginning of each LCE speech can help them deduct what might come up during the speech.

Based on the above, I conclude that the UN LCE is like any sports competition; it requires adequate training and preparation for the result to be satisfactory. In order to have enough time to prepare, future candidates are advised to regularly check the UN careers portal (https://careers.un.org) where all language related vacancies and exams are announced.


Maha El-Metwally is a conference interpreter for the languages: Arabic (A), English (B), French and Dutch (C). She works for a wide range of international organizations, including the European Institutions and the United Nations. She is a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), The Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) and the American Translators Association (ATA). She is also a Board member and member of the Admissions Committee of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI).
Maha’s most recent degree is an MA in interpreter training from the University of Geneva. She is associated with a number of universities both in the UK and abroad where she gives professionalization talks. She also teaches conference interpreting at London Metropolitan University.

New ISO Standards Relating to Conference Interpreting

Reprinted with gracious permission by AIIC.
Benoît KREMER, Klaus ZIEGLER. “New ISO standards relating to conference interpreting”. aiic.net July 19, 2017.

Three new standards related to conference interpreting and 2 updated standards on interpretation booths and equipment are now in place.

In December 2016, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published three new standards relating to conference interpreting (spoken languages and signed languages). The updating of the two standards relating to permanent and mobile interpretation booths (ISO 2603, Simultaneous interpreting — Permanent booths — Requirements and ISO 4043, Simultaneous interpreting — Mobile booths — Requirements), as well as the new standard on technical equipment in simultaneous interpretation booths (ISO 20109, Simultaneous interpreting — Equipment — Requirements), are aimed at interpreting booth manufacturers, companies hiring out technical equipment, events agencies and meeting room architects, as well as at conference interpreters themselves. Representatives from various AIIC Regions made a significant contribution to the drafting and updating of these three standards.

New and updated standards relating to interpretation booths and technical equipment

The review of the standards applying to interpreting booths, which are almost 20 years old, focuses in particular on architectural and functional requirements as well as sound insulation. Technical equipment requirements are now specified separately. These four restructured technical standards, will allow architects, sound installation designers and manufacturers to create improved next-generation interpretation booths. Members from several AIIC Regions were involved in the expert group ISO/TC 37/SC 5/WG 3 (“Facilities and equipment for interpretation services”), where they contributed their specialist knowledge as well as their experience gained from working in many different situations.

Permanent interpretation booths (ISO 2603:2016 or DIN EN ISO 2603)

As far as permanent interpretation booths are concerned, advances have been made, for instance on improving the interpreters’ view of speakers, the podium and presentations, as well as their access to an Internet connection (WLAN) and a sufficient power outlets for laptops, tablets, etc.

Mobile interpretation booths (ISO 4043:2016 or DIN EN ISO 4043)

The new standard is directed at interpretation booth manufacturers as well as companies hiring out technical interpretation equipment and their clients, meeting organisers and events agencies. The new version provides improvements to the quality of the workplace and ensures that requirements needed for interpretation quality and excellence can be even better met in future. In concrete terms, this means high air quality and optimal acoustic conditions in the booth due to sensors measuring CO2, quieter fans and better sound insulation from other booths in the meeting room.

Technical equipment for simultaneous interpretation (ISO 20109)

This new standard contains rules on the technological equipment used in the booth and other interpretation facilities (e.g. interpreting consoles, microphones and headphones), and provides an essential basis to guarantee the quality of the service provided and protect the health and safety of interpreters. This review provides improvements to microphone requirements and microphone management; sound input and output switching; speech intelligibility; image quality, image projection and lip synchronisation; video screen features including quality, and interpreter selection of video inputs; technical management of the interpretation facilities, disability compliancy of interpreting desks, hearing protection and appropriate seating. There is now a requirement for a display in the interpretation console showing when the interpretation is being broadcast (television, radio, webstreaming, video conference) or, more generally, when it is being recorded for future use.

Quality of audio and video signals for simultaneous interpretation (ISO/DIS 2018)

This standard defines the basic parameters applicable to the quality of audio and video input signals for simultaneous interpretation. It also sets out for the first time requirements on simultaneous interpretation in situations where the interpreters, the audience and the speaker are not all present in the same place (distance interpreting/remote interpreting). The final version of this standard is due to be published in October 2017.

First standard on conference interpreting: DIN 2347

In March 2017, the German Institute for Standardization – DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V.) – published a new standard, DIN 2347, Translation and interpreting services – Interpreting services – Conference Interpreting. This standard is aimed at professional conference interpreters, and addresses the subjects of qualifications and working procedures. Internationally, the DIN 2347 standard is the first on conference interpreting. It was drafted by the DIN Standards Committee Terminology (NAT) working group “Translation and interpreting services”. Several members of AIIC’s German Region have supported the development of the DIN 2347 standard within this Committee over the last years.

The criteria included in the DIN 2347 standard cover requirements on language skills and conference interpreter training, as well as current important topics such as data protection or the responsible management of sensitive content. The work steps which are carried out before and after an interpreting assignment are also taken into account.

Certification is now possible

This new standard provides freelance conference interpreters with the possibility of demonstrating that they are certified according to the DIN 2347 standard, particularly to their clients certified according to the ISO-9001 standard, thereby proving the professionalism of their working methods. The audits verify the qualifications that are required to practice conference interpreting and inspect organisational procedures, the degree of standardisation and the level of information security. However, the inspection does not cover actual interpreting assignments.

AIIC requirements provide the basis for assessing qualifications and language skills. Today a university degree in conference interpreting is commonly the first step into the profession, and admission to the Association rests on proof of professional experience based on a minimum number of days worked in line with AIIC’s rules and standards, and endorsement by three AIIC members who have worked with the candidate and thus are able to assess his or her language qualifications in situ.

Tearing up the Asphalt—Language Professionals Inside and Outside the Beltway Unite!

Written by Joe Mazza, Administrator ATA Government Division

On the morning of Monday, August 17, 1964—just days after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution expanded the Vietnam War, and only days before the Economic Opportunity Act helped launch LBJ’s War on Poverty—the newly completed Capitol Beltway opened to automobile traffic. It was a busy month in DC that summer. The fanfare over the roadway was minimal—segments of it had been opening for years. Despite the fact that the modest ribbon-cutting ceremony jammed up traffic for hours, most DC-area commuters in that pre-telework age rejoiced briefly, then launched a rich tradition of cursing the highway on a twice-daily basis. More importantly, and perhaps unintentionally, a line was drawn—forevermore, there would be a world “inside the Beltway,” and one “outside the Beltway.” Both worlds would claim to be all knowing. Both worlds would stare over the dented guardrails at the other with a mixture of confusion and suspicion.

Nearly two decades later, I was inducted into the venerable FBI (Fraternity of Beltway Insiders). We still called it a “fraternity” in that less inclusive age. Despite Reagan-era proposals to shrink the Federal Government workforce, the Navy Department had hired me “on a temporary basis” to translate articles from the Soviet press. That temporary gig has lasted 33 years, first at the Navy, then at the State Department. And while there are days when my ancient insider status helps me to navigate the “government language community” within the Beltway, there are far more days when I still wish I had been issued a better road map.

Or, in keeping with my original seafaring focus at the Navy, a better nautical chart. For what was true then remains true now–the language islands in the Federal Archipelago are scattered and they are many. There is a new one, for example, at the Census Bureau in Suitland, MD, where translators help folks to be counted—in dozens of languages. In Bethesda, MD, there is another island at the National Institutes of Health, where translators work with medical literature from all over the world. Other islands—whose exact coordinates are revealed solely “on a need to know basis”—deal with words in over a hundred languages, so others can analyze threats to national security. My current island—the Department of State’s Office of Language Services (LS)—deals with diplomatic translation and interpreting, and has sat proudly in downtown DC since the Federal Capital moved here in 1800, making it the oldest of the islands. Before that, it drifted about the eastern seaboard as the young republic decided where to moor its government—including two stays in New York City. And there are dozens of other language islands, atolls, and cays—each with differing recruitment needs, security policies, career paths, and working procedures. We who dwell on them used to assemble from time to time under the banner of the now defunct Society of Federal Linguists (SFL)—a haven for the scholarly polyglots who streamed to DC during the Cold War era. Some of us gather still at the monthly Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR), where we hobnob with language testers and trainers, sharing technological breakthroughs and heartbreaks. Still, we government language islanders often feel unconnected to each other, and to the world beyond those battered guardrails along the outer loop of the Beltway.

And what of the language professionals who never received that “insider card”—those who happen to work or study in the other 99 percent of the US landmass? We DC-based cardholders meet them all the time at various language forums and at universities around the country. Outside our Beltway perimeter, we feel recharged and refreshed by all that is happening in our industry in the wider world. Perhaps this shows on our faces, and makes us more approachable. Because when government agencies table at language-focused events, the lines are long. And when we send government colleagues to speak on our behalf, they are typically bombarded with questions. At conference after conference, it is clear that “they” want to know as much about “us” as “we” want to know about “them.” Translators, interpreters, and T&I project managers from around the country want to know who we capital language folks are, what we need, and how we work. By far the most frequent of FAQs is simply: “where do I sign up?” Other FAQs include:

I passed an interpreting test with another government agency in 2009. Why do I need to take a test with your agency? Isn’t there just one unified test for the whole government?
– I was told by one government agency that I would need to be a US citizen in order to be a freelance translator. Does that mean all government agencies have that rule? What if I am a dual national?
Don’t all of US Government agencies share the same roster of freelancers?

– Is it true that I have to move to Washington, DC, to be a US Government translator?
For those of us insiders sitting at exhibit hall tables or standing at the speaker’s rostrum, it is no easy task to provide answers that take into account the wide variety of habitats and life forms our federal language archipelago hosts. Complicating the picture is the fact that nowadays, there are government language professionals working all over the country—some as contractors or staff teleworkers who translate or manage projects from home offices; others as interpreters, translators, or project managers reporting to government offices around the country. Think of the many US Government field offices in the New York City area, for example. The truth is, those of us government language professionals who make our lives in the DC area are only a subset of wider government language community. The Beltway barrier has morphed from an asphalt one into a virtual one. Nevertheless, the Beltway barrier persists, and the questions keep coming.

When I started teaching Spanish/English translation at the University of Maryland’s Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation (GSIT) program three years ago, these questions assumed a new importance. Now it was my students who were posing them. Would there be government jobs—staff or contract—for the younger translator entering the workforce? What languages or skills should they add to their repertoire to make themselves more employable in the government? What was the future for which I was training these eager students? I always ask my students where they see themselves in our profession in 20 years. My favorite answer is one I have heard more than once: “having your job”!

These were the questions racing through my own mind back in 2015, when Dr. Maria Brau, a colleague from the real FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called to seek my support for the establishment of a new Government Division within the American Translators Association (ATA). After suffering three decades of varying confusion about what my sisters and brothers in the federal language community do, I was ready for an ATA Division to solve that problem once and for all, and gave my wholehearted support. A year later, I found myself running the thing as Division Administrator! Now I would be have to be the mapmaker. Fortunately, I have help. Monique Roske, a longtime interpreter and instructor of interpretation, is the Assistant Administrator. As we build up our Division, Monique is frequently heard to utter “remember those outside the Beltway!” One of our goals is an online compendium of US Government “language shops” with thumbnail sketches and ample hyperlinks for fuller details. Another is to reach out to government language units at the state and local level.

The ATA Government Division is among the youngest of the 20 ATA Divisions, and in addition to building our institutional infrastructure, much of our activity this year has focused on the upcoming Annual ATA Conference right in our own backyard—at the Washington Hilton in mid-town DC. Given that the nation’s capital is hosting this year’s conference, government language activities are an inevitable focus. The ATA’s last DC-area conference was in 1989, so it is high time to meet again on the Potomac and think about the language career options the Federal Government provides. To that end, the Government Division has worked to offer the following to this year’s ATA Conference attendees:

Presentations: this year’s ATA Conference offers no less than eight carefully chosen sessions focusing on government language activities, including talks by the National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) and the Census Bureau, a panel discussion on the impact of artificial intelligence, several talks on interpretation, and a presentation on coaching for translators in the government and beyond. See the Preliminary Conference Program at the ATA website for details.

Networking Event: like our fellow ATA Divisions, we will offer a chance to gather after hours at a local eatery to share drinks, food, and conversation. The ATA Government Division networking event will be held at 6 pm on Thursday, October 26, at a DC landmark—Mama Ayesha’s Middle Eastern Restaurant at 1967 Calvert Street, NW, just a few blocks from the Conference hotel. Read more at the Division events page on the ATA website.

Division Meeting: we will meet briefly at 12:30 pm on Friday, October 27, during the Conference, to map out strategies for the coming year. See the Final Conference Program for exact location details. Forging ties with state and local governments is foremost on our agenda.

In addition, a number of government agencies will be hosting tables in the Conference’s Exhibit Hall. Compose your questions and seek us out early, for the lines are sure to be long!

As you get to know us, you will realize that we are not all work and no play. A favorite pastime of the “insiders” is poke fun at bureaucratic speak, in all its guises. We see more of it than most of you, and we tend to view it as a hairdresser contemplates an unruly head of hair: it is something to be teased, trimmed, curled, or colored—even if a full head shaving would seem to be the only remedy. One federal colleague collected what he called “egregious noun pile-ups” in bureaucratic writing. True to form, this year’s DC-based Conference includes a session by my State Department boss in understanding and taming bureaucratic prose. As we say in DC, it promises to be a “robust practice-based language skills enhancement education colloquium.” Try fitting that into a PowerPoint textbox in another language!

Whether you travel to DC for the ATA Conference to meet us in person, or stay connected to the ATA Government Division on line, via our listserv or our soon-to-emerge website, the Division’s goal is to expose you to a benign strain of what some call “Potomac Fever.” I contracted it in 1979, when I chose to study languages in Washington, DC, with a dream to use them someday in a government job. There are thousands of similar case studies. Inevitably, those afflicted will say the same thing: government language work is intellectually fascinating and rewarding. Not just for the work in itself, but also for the sheer number of resources that emanate from the Federal Government. Take the four reading rooms at the Library of Congress that cover geographical regions of the world: the Hispanic; the Asian; the European; and the African/Middle Eastern. Many of their holdings are now available on line, accessible to all throughout the land. Yet when the heads of these reading rooms gave a presentation at a recent Interagency Language Roundtable meeting, I found that many of my “insider” colleagues did not know about those physical spaces on Capitol Hill, let alone about the cyberspaces they had created. The human resources in the government language community are truly its greatest assets—my capital colleagues take pride in being authorities in the languages they use on the job, all the while studying further to keep those languages fresh. Meanwhile, they become subject matter specialists on everything from antisubmarine warfare to international child abduction. I worked with a gentleman at the Justice Department, now retired, who was an expert in Spanish slang from every corner of the Americas—try as I might, I could never stump him. I have worked with a Labor Department colleague who studies Quechua and Aymara in her spare time. Several of my LS colleagues at the State Department have worked comfortably in over a dozen languages at a time—one certified a treaty in Faroese; another invented his own language. With a government language community of this caliber, the republic is eminently well served.

Beyond the intellectual charge it delivers, the work of the government language community delivers an excitement often described as high-stakes and cutting edge. The adrenaline often rises; the knuckles occasionally whiten. Whether our interpreters are helping to bring peace to warring factions, or our translators are helping to cure a disease more virulent than Potomac Fever, our work can impact millions. This is a source of pride for the government language professional, and a source of sleepless nights for us too.

My advice to the language professionals of the New York area: contract Potomac Fever and lose some sleep with us. Bust through the Beltway—or at least bridge it. Let the ATA Government Division be your guide.

One postscript: There is a time-honored tradition of government service from the New York translator and interpreter community. In fact, the State Department’s first three translators—John Peter Tetard, Isaac Pinto, and John Pintard—were New Yorkers hired while the Department was headquartered in New York City for two short stretches in the 1780s. Tetard had to face the capital’s brief move back to Philadelphia, before resigning to become the first professor of a modern language at King’s College (just as it changed its name to Columbia University). Once the capital shifted back to New York again, translators Pinto and Pintard reported to work at a repurposed Fraunces Tavern down on Pearl Street, where you can still see the reconstructed offices of Foreign Affairs Secretary John Jay on the upper floors, including his ledger books recording subscriptions to foreign-language periodicals. Pinto’s knowledge of Arabic—an exceedingly rare skill in those newly United States—surely came in handy after the young nation signed a Treaty of Friendship with Morocco in 1786–the oldest U.S. treaty still in force. A century later, Henry Livingston Thomas (1835-1903) of the Hudson Valley became the first State Department translator to receive a Civil Service appointment.

Somewhere inside the Beltway, or perhaps outside it, there is a government office that needs your talents. Log into the Divisions section of the ATA website and join the Government Division today!

Professionalism and Professionalization

On June 2 of last year, the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the Association of Language Interpreters of Greater New York (ALIGNY), and the New York Circle of Translators (NYCT) held a forum under the title, “Translation and Interpreting: from Bilingualism to Professionalism.” The response to the symposium, in which I had the pleasure to take part, was far more enthusiastic than we had anticipated. More than twice as many people attempted to sign up than we were able to accommodate. I think that this initial response, in addition to the follow-up feedback from the audience and presenters, speaks to the dramatically growing momentum for raising standards in our professions of interpreting and translating.

One of the presenters, Eric Candle of the IMIA, discussed the national medical interpreter training and certification, which has progressively become more lengthy and rigorous. Similarly, court interpreter certification in New York State and elsewhere has advanced by leaps and bounds since its beginnings in the 1970s and ’80s. The ATA translator certification exam has improved and gained acceptance as a universal standard. An ATA interpreter certification exam is in the works. Translator and interpreter training programs are popping up at an unprecedented rate.

Professor María Cornelio spoke on the Spanish Major Concentration in Translation and Interpretation at Hunter College which she directs. María Barros, of the Spanish Translation Service at the UN, discussed the question of whether the translation practice at the UN could serve as a model for the industry. Jean Campbell, of the Sherman & Sterling law firm, presented on professional standards in legal translation. In conclusion, I moderated a panel composed of Prof. María Cornelio, María Barros, Jean Campbell, Eric Candle, Ricardo Fernández (staff court interpreter at Manhattan Criminal Court), and Lionel Bajaña (supervisory interpreter at Bronx Criminal Court).

Despite the undeniable gains in professionalization, I think it is clear that much more work needs to be done and that we cannot be complacent. One challenge is the lack of resources to train and remunerate translators and interpreters. If the standard for translators is written translations that are nearly 100 percent accurate and read as if originally written in the target language, then this implies an extremely high level of prior education and experience. Likewise, if the standard for legal interpreting is that the limited English proficient (LEP) individual must understand the English-language proceedings in his or her own language as well as a native English speaker would, then the interpreter’s level of prior education and experience must be extremely high.

There are, of course, many thoroughly professional practicing translators and interpreters, but the onerous weight on their backs caused by scarce educational opportunities, inadequate remuneration, and unacceptable working conditions are bad for everyone. If translators and interpreters are to exercise the same level of competence as good doctors, lawyers, or accountants do, more money will need to be invested in their education and salaries. If linguists are not well remunerated, it is impossible to justify an investment in this career path—and then all of society will suffer.

Primary and secondary education programs need to offer better curricula in language training. Higher education also is an obvious essential in the training of translators and interpreters. But higher education is exorbitant in this country and our industry will not be able to tackle this larger problem on its own. Needless to say, bad translation and bad interpreting can lead to unspeakable calamity; in diplomatic catastrophes, wrongful convictions, medical malpractice, catastrophic financial loss, or in any other matter where miscommunication arises between people who speak different languages. For instance, some have attributed the bombing of Hiroshima and, separately, the escalation of the arms race in the 1950s to misinterpretations.

Another challenge that at least some of us face is that our work and training will not always be exposing us to every type of document we will translate or every type of proceeding we interpret in our subsequent career. There is always plenty of potential for something new that at times will make photocopy translation or interpreting (which is the aspired standard of perfection in legal translation and interpreting) an illusory goal. This especially applies to languages of lesser diffusion, such as Wolof, Tibetan, or Kaqchikel, to name a few of thousands. These translators and interpreters may find that their ability to accumulate preparatory training and experience is more limited due to the lesser availability of training and assignments. Yet I would submit that, as monumental as the task is of effectively providing language services, we are obligated to invest our energies in it. Too much is at stake not to: life, safety, and liberty, in addition to the potential for catastrophic financial loss.

Your reading this article is a sign that you are interested in change. I think the place to start a movement towards full professionalization is within and among our professional organizations: the New York Circle of Translators, the International Medical Interpreters Association, the Association of Language Interpreters of Greater New York, the American Translators Association, or the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, among others nationally and internationally. Your contributions and creativity to come up with solutions and implement them are sorely needed. We can continue to hold fora, such as the symposium, to educate ourselves, our clients, and society at large. In fact, the consensus among the organizers after last year’s event was that it would be very useful to make the forum an ongoing annual event.

Yet I think it bears emphasis that educating the general public is crucially important since the public will have to invest in our services in order for us to progress. This would necessarily include recognizing and remunerating the many outstanding professionals already practicing in line with the value of the service they are providing. If the highest standards currently being practiced are to become the rule rather than the exception, the public has to understand that better medical translations, better diplomatic interpreting, and better social services translation and interpreting will make us all more prosperous. If a legal interpreter breaches his or her confidentiality requirement, unduly steps into the role of lawyer, or omits content from his or her rendering of a proceeding, the potentially negative consequences are incalculable. We will also have to educate government officials who are in a position to implement far-reaching changes.

In short, more rigorous and affordable training and better remuneration are indispensable to continued professionalism and further professionalization of our industry and the rendering of service that our clients need and deserve.

Written by Leonard Morin
Leonard MorinLeonard Morin is a staff interpreter at Manhattan Criminal Court. He previously practiced as a full-time translator (since 2004) and interpreter (since 2006). Leonard interprets Spanish and Dutch and translates chiefly legal and cartography-related documents from Dutch, Spanish, and German into English. He earned a propedeuse degree in law in the Netherlands and graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Latin American Studies. Leonard has earned translation and interpreting certificates and won academic prizes for his Spanish and German. He previously served as president of the New York Circle of Translators.

Translation News from Around the World

This information comes from member associations of FIT and is reprinted from Translatio.

Austrian Associations succeed in Raising Awareness on the Difference Between Translators and Interpreters

In a joint effort, the German-speaking professional associations loosely organised within the framework of what is called “Bremer Runde”, which meets several times a year to discuss issues of common interest, addressed the subject of the frequent though mistaken use of the terms “translator/translation” and “interpreter/interpretation” in the German

In Austria, five independent professional associations work together under the umbrella of the “Translationsplattform” (www.translationsplattform.at), in particular to attract more attention and to give more weight to their arguments when reaching out jointly to the public or to specific stakeholders.

Acting upon the discussions within “Bremer Runde”, the Austrian associations got together to draft and send out letters to the media and to the editors of “Österreichisches Wörterbuch” (a standard monolingual German-language
dictionary that is widely used in Austrian schools). The letters clearly outlined the differences between the activities performed by translators and interpreters and proposed definitions to be added to the dictionary. They were accompanied
by a joint press release on the topic.

The Austrian associations were very pleased with the media echo their efforts received. The response of the dictionary editors is especially worth mentioning, as they welcomed the valuable input and easy-to-understand presentation of the terms in question and promised to take account of the suggestions in the next edition of the dictionary.

Dagmar Sanjath, Secretary General of UNIVERSITAS Austria, Interpreters and
Translators’ Association,

UNI 11591:2015 – Italy has its own national standard to certify translators and interpreters

Three years in the making, the new UNI standard has finally been given the green light by UNI (Italian Organization for Standardization) on September 10, 2015. It was proposed by AITI and
written in collaboration with AIDAC, AIIC, Assointerpreti, ANITI, AssiITIG and TradInFounder under the supervision of esteemed professors from the Università di Bologna, DIT Forlì, Trieste and Fondazione Universitaria San Pellegrino.

The new standard provides requirements for the knowledge, skills and competence expected from individual TSPs and ISPs in accordance with the CEN GUIDE 14:2010 (“Common policy guidance for
addressing standardisation on qualification of professions and personnel”) and the European Qualification Framework (EQF).

It outlines eight professional profiles:
conference interpreter, legal interpreter,
healthcare/medical interpreter, business interpreter, technical-scientific translator,
audio-visual script translator and dialogue writer, legal translator, and language localisation professional.

The UNI 11591:2015 was recently presented during
a road-show in Genoa, Rome, Venice, Florence,
Turin, Trento, Trieste, Ancona, and Bologna with a large audience of professionals in attendance. Plans to be in Naples and Sicily in early 2016 are
under way.

Third-party certification for translators and interpreters is likely to be available next year, once the certification schemes are drafted in compliance with ISO 17024. A milestone in the global translation and interpretation industry, the UNI 11591:2015 provides guidance for the qualification of professional translators and interpreters on the market and their clients.

Sandra Bertolini, Sandro Corradini,
Orietta Olivetti, presidenza@aiti.org

Interpreting News

It’s a new year and a good time to look at what is trending in the job market. Whether you are looking for a language service provider or you are looking to become an interpreter, the language service industry is all the buzz. This week, The DC posted an article about immigration escalation and projections. The amount of foreign born people in the US from 1880 – 1970 increased by only 40%, while the amount from 1970-2060 will have increased by 715%! That is a jaw dropping number, and a good indicator that language services will continue to grow as the country does.

The industry on a whole is in a massive state of expansion. Technological advances make language services more accessible, and therefore businesses are starting to utilize them more. Interpreters and translators are among the fastest growing career paths in the country and that is predicted to continue at least for the next decade.

Medical Mission Seeks Volunteer Interpreters

Looking for a good cause? Project H.A.N.D.S. requires certified medical interpreters for patient safety. If you are certified and can donate 10 days, Project H.A.N.D.S. is accepting applicants for their May 13 – 21, 2016 trip to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The goal is to establish a Cervical Cancer Prevention Program. They need two Certified Medical Interpreters.

Direct inquiries to Maria Schwieter, RN, CHI, at (219) 229-5351

Interpret. Spread the word. Help others. Save lives. Join this rewarding work!

ORAL FLASHCARDS: Tapping into Auditory & Vocal Skills to Improve Term Acquisition

By Julie A. Sellers

Reprinted from the ATA Chronicle’s June 2012 issue with gracious permission from the author and the editor

Language is ever evolving and never static, and interpreters must strive constantly to expand and refine their linguistic knowledge. As such, they must incorporate ways to practice language skills into their daily lives. Many of us have used paper flashcards to help facilitate language acquisition at some point in our career. It is a simple method: on one side of the card we write a term in our first language (L1), and on the reverse we write the same term in our second language (L2). Oral flashcards take the concept of practicing forward and backward translation a step further by turning it into a listening and speaking activity. As we shall see, this technique is particularly valuable to interpreters.

Why Oral Flashcards?
Creating a study method that works for you is key to successful and sustained vocabulary practice and development. Oral flashcards are productive tools for learning new terms or practicing less commonly used ones because the exercise mimics
what interpreters actually do on the job by drawing on auditory and vocal skills far more effectively than traditional paper flashcards. They can also be created easily. Instead of writing on a card, you create an audio recording of the terms you wish to practice. The process involves just a few steps:

• Prepare a list of terms or phrases you want to learn and group them by topic. Familiarize yourself with the terms so that you can pronounce them smoothly when recording. Each recording should be no longer than five minutes. This will facilitate locating terms quickly for review and will keep digital audio files smaller.

• Record yourself saying each term in L1, leave a brief interval to allow yourself time to respond during practice sessions, and then say the term’s equivalent in L2. You should
also make a second recording from L2 to L1, since it is important to create oral flashcards that move in both directions to strengthen backward and forward translation. There are a variety of methods with which to create oral flashcards.

Digital Recorders: These devices are an inexpensive option. Some recorders give you the ability to create multiple files containing word lists, but you will be unable to customize the list names since they will appear simply as numbers on the recorder’s display. This is a disadvantage because you will be unable to scroll through and find specific lists quickly or switch the order of your lists. Some digital recorders come with software that allows you to upload recordings as mp3 files to the computer, where you can rename the list files so they are easy to locate and differentiate. From there, you can burn a CD or transfer the files to an iPod, mp3 player, or smartphone. Although
digital recorders with this capability cost more, it is worth the extra investment to have the flexibility they offer.

Podcasts: You can create podcasts with programs such as Audacity, PodProducer, and WildVoice Studio, which can then be transferred to an iPod or mp3 player or else played directly from your computer. Again, these have the benefit of allowing you to customize the names of your lists so they can be identified and located easily.

GarageBand for Mac: If you are a Mac user, the GarageBand application, which comes standard as part of the iLife suite, provides a user friendly option. GarageBand allows you to select “Create New Podcast Episode” from the main menu. Users can indicate whether their recording is of a male or female voice, which improves quality. Editing features include the ability to change the timing of your recording, split tracks, move portions of a track, and insert new portions of recorded material into an existing track. The recording quality is good and it is easy to export files directly to iTunes and upload them to an iPod, iPhone, or burn them to a CD.

Windows Sound Recorder for PC: PC users might be interested in Windows Sound Recorder. This application, which comes standard on PCs, is user-friendly and allows you the benefit of recording directly to your desktop. This is an especially good option for those new to recording on anything other than a digital or standard tape recorder, since it requires no additional investment. The only requirement is that you have a sound card and an inexpensive microphone.

Software: Free downloads or recording software are also available, such as Audacity (for PC, Mac, and Linux at http:// audacity.sourceforge.net/download) and Free Sound Recorder for PC (http://cnet.co/Free-Sound). If you want something with more capacity, you can purchase a number of software programs. Prices vary, so do your research and find the one that best fits your needs and preferences (see reviews at

Smartphone Apps: Many smartphones come preloaded with a voice recorder. You simply record onto your phone and play it back whenever you want to practice. There are also downloadable apps for purchase that allow for voice recording. For example, I have used QuickVoice on my iPhone for voice recording (www.quickvoice. com/quickvoice).

Tape Recorder: Finally, there is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned tape recorder, if this is what you feel most comfortable using. A disadvantage will be searching for your lists or locating them using a counter. In addition to helping us learn and practice, an added bonus of oral flashcards is that they are considerably more portable and accessible than a notebook or a stack of traditional paper flashcards. It is much easier to schedule time to practice and study vocabulary into our daily routine when it can be done while walking the dog, running on the treadmill, vacuuming, or cooking dinner. Repetition fulfills important functions in normal, everyday speech. The effectiveness of oral flashcards goes beyond mere convenience. This approach to term acquisition also
takes advantage of certain neurological theories associated with how we learn and retain information, some of which are discussed below.

Learning in Chunks
Research in second language acquisition has shown that attempting to learn a language word by word will not result in the internalization of that language’s overall linguistic structure, and instead can contribute to fossilization because a speaker is unable to create original utterances with the language. Communicative approaches to language learning thus emphasize the importance of meaningful input: hearing the language used realistically and in context so that learners can begin to incorporate it into their ever developing internal understanding of how the language works. Similarly, these approaches stress the importance of learning meaningful chunks of language in context.

According to David Wood, coordinator of the program for the Certificate in the Teaching of English as a Second Language at Carleton University’s School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, these chunks are linguistic formulas or, “fixed strings …
of words that have a range of functions and uses in speech production and communication and seem to be cognitively stored and retrieved by speakers as if they were single words.”1 Many first phrases spoken by those just beginning to learn a language (e.g., “What’s your name?” or “How are you?”) are common examples of chunks. Similarly, the doublets and triplets common to legal language can be described as chunks (e.g., “give, devise, and bequeath”). Because these word strings follow a set pattern, speakers can remember and use them without variation. By learning the meaning of a chunk, we are able to communicate without having to think
through the nuts and bolts of its construction.

For example, Spanish learners can easily express likes and dislikes using Me gusta / No me gusta long before they understand indirect object pronouns. Such formulaic sequences play an important role in language acquisition. Chunking aids in the internalization of language and contributes to fluency by increasing the amount of
speech produced without a pause. 2

In other words, we communicate meaning rather than simply string individual words together. Novice language learners, for example, can have a completely legitimate conversation using nothing but chunks such as “Hello, how are you? What’s your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? What’s your phone number? Nice to meet you. I’ll see you later,” and so on. Speech patterns and tendencies to use formulaic sequences are such that we become aware of them both consciously and subconsciously. Never was this clearer to me than the time I had a student raise his hand and ask what I was always looking for when I said Vamos a ver (“Let’s see”) as I consulted the list of activities for the day. This type of awareness, as Wood points out, helps, “establish a pattern recognition unit, which is then strengthened by frequent input, eventually leading to single-step memory access … [and] … automatization or retrieval in a single-step process of remembering”3

Thus, we do not have to think of each individual word or form in a chunk; rather, the entire
string is accessed and produced as one unit. Using these chunks or even a series of them allows time for us to attend to other utterances that demand more attention and are not formulaic. For example, a novice language learner does not consciously have to think about the meaning of “My name is…” and can instead pay attention to the information that follows.

Without a doubt, repetition is essential to learning chunks of information. It is not enough simply to listen to something; we need to reproduce the sounds and train our vocal chords to form them. Repetition in language learning has sometimes gotten a bad rap because of its association with the behaviorist audio lingual approach of the 1950s and 1960s. Lee James and Bill VanPatten, both internationally recognized scholars in the field of second language acquisition, note that audio lingualism, which is based on
theories of behaviorism, was originally, “[d]eveloped at military schools (where one did not question authority) … [and it] … explicitly cast the instructor as drill leader.”4 The end goal of this approach is to create good habits in language learners and eliminate bad ones. Therefore, audio lingual learning activities emphasize patterned drills. Central to this approach are compact language drills (CDLs) in which learners repeat what an instructor says.

As a result, repetition is sometimes cast aside because it conjures up the image of rote drills. Nevertheless, repetition fulfills important functions in normal, everyday speech. We need only think of how children parrot everything they hear when learning to speak to know that repetition serves as a building block of language learning and, later, original creation with the language. This is a result of a component of working memory known as the phonological loop, which deals with spoken and written language. In an article in Psychological Review, Alan Baddeley, Susan Gathercole, and Costanza Papagno explain that the phonological loop, “comprises both a phonological store, which holds information in phonological form, and a rehearsal process, which serves to maintain decaying representations in the phonological store.”5 Similar to using chunks, repetition allows us to produce easy to remember formulaic utterances while giving our minds time to craft what follows.6

Second language speakers have to know both content and form to create utterances within a language. Novice language learners tend to remember words in L2 by binding them to their L1 translation; in other words, they do not see a new L2 term as having meaning in and of itself, but rather through its link to the word in L1.7 In an article discussing language representation and processing in fluent bilinguals in Neuropsychologia, Shekeila Palmer, Johanna van Hoof, and Jelena Havelka explain that with increased proficiency, speakers of a second language develop, “an asymmetrically connected linguistic system in which the two lexicons are linked both directly at the lexical level, and indirectly via independent links between each lexicon and the conceptual store.” 8 That is, we make connections both on a word-for-word and a meaning-for-meaning level. As many of us know from experience, the consequence of this asymmetrical system is that backward translation going from L2 to L1 is faster than forward translation because it tends to be lexical, or at the word level. In contrast, forward translation tends to be based more on meaning and concepts. 9

Musical Memory
The concept of listening to a recording also ties into how the brain processes auditory stimuli. Music and memory are uniquely linked. Music often accompanies our memories, and those memories of music come back very accurately. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, has found in his work with patients that, “musical perception, musical sensibility, musical emotion, and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared.” 10

As linguists, we can capitalize on our musical intelligence and the strength of musical memories. If you listen to anyone for very long, you will pick up on the unique rhythmic qualities of his or her individual speech. We can likewise tap into our own musicality the
unique rhythms and sounds of our individual way of speaking to help us remember by following the beat of our speech patterns. Self-repetition of words and phrases plants a rhythmic memory in your brain of the way you produce those words and phrases. Practicing our vocabulary by listening to audio recordings of ourselves repeating terms allows us to draw on the rhythm of speech (and not so much on the linguistical aspects) to retrieve and recall content.

For example, whether you consider yourself a musician or not, you likely have experienced something known as an earworm at some point in your life. Earworms are those snippets of music that get stuck and replay through our minds, often with maddening consistency. When we remember, neurons fire in the same pattern as when we first perceived the object or event we remember. In the case of earworms, it
appears that the pattern is firing repeatedly much like a scratch on a vinyl record or CD.11 As studies of music and the brain indicate, musical memories often outlast other memories since they are stored differently. Tapping into your own musicality by using oral flashcards to learn, practice, and remember is like having a backup rhythmic copy of the concrete.

As country singer Trisha Yearwood sings, “The song remembers when.”12 Oliver Sacks likewise quotes one of his correspondents: “Every memory of my childhood has a soundtrack to it.”13 Many of us would agree with both observations regarding the power of musical memory.

Understanding How We Learn
Taken together, these understandings of the architecture of our linguistic system suggest that oral flashcards are an effective strategy to help us enhance our vocabularies and improve our skills as interpreters. Because we, as linguists, need to be able to move back and forth fluidly between languages, our practice of new terms should challenge us. Our practice of new terms should challenge us to exercise every aspect of the brain’s capacity to learn and adapt to linguistic patterns.
By using repetition to strengthen our proficiency in a language, and by becoming familiar with the musicality of our individual pronunciation, we will become more aware of how these language patterns can affect our performance.

1. Wood, David. “Uses and Functions of Formulaic Sequences in Second Language Speech: An Exploration of the Foundations of Fluency.” The Canadian Modern Language Review (Volume 63, no. 1, 2006), 14.
www.aclacaal.org/Revue/vol-12- 1_art-wood.pdf.
2. Ibid., 13-33.
3. Ibid., 17.
4. Lee, James F., and Bill VanPatten. Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 7.
5. Baddeley, Alan, Susan Gathercole, and Costanza Papagno. “The Phono logical Loop as a Language
Learning Device.” Psychological Review (Volume 105, no. 1, 1998), 158.
6. Rydland, Veslemøy and Vibeke Grøver Aukrust. “Lexical Repetition in Second Language Learners’ Peer Play Interaction.” Language Learning (Volume 55, no. 2, 2005). 7. Palmer, Shekeila D., Johanna C. van Hoof, and Jelena Havelka. “Language Representation and Processing in Fluent Bilinguals: Electrophysiological Evidence for Asymmetric Mapping in Bilingual Memory.” Neuropsychologia (Volume 48, 2010), 1426-1437.
8. Ibid., 1426.
9. Ibid., 1426.
10. Sacks, Oliver. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (New York: Vintage, 2007), 373.
11. Levitin, Daniel J. This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (New York: Dutton, 2006).
12. Prestwood, Hugh. “The Song Remembers When” [Recorded by Trish Yearwood]. On The Song Remembers When [CD]. Nashville: MCA, 1993.
13. Sacks. Musicophilia: Tales ofMusic and the Brain, 37.