Does the New York Circle Have a Higher Purpose?

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by Leonard Morin

The new Board of the New York Circle of Translators took office as of January 1 of this year, and I am no longer president. I am happy to pass on the reins to my successors and confident they will do an excellent job. I hope that future boards will be equally strong. Of course potential weaknesses in the future will be compensated somewhat by the work of our paid administrator (currently Louise Jennewine, who continues in that role).

The hard work over the last three years by our board members, including me, Louise both as program director and administrator, and members who have volunteered has made our organization more robust and hopefully viable in the long term. But what higher purposes does all this serve to make it worthwhile? After all, we are not sacrificing our time and hard work merely for entertainment. We aim to provide something transcendental to our members and society.

I think it is fair to say that the first thing on our members’ minds is higher pay, followed by better working conditions. Third would be higher quality products and services for our clients, not only because higher pay is hard to justify without being able to guarantee high quality, but because translators and interpreters generally want to do an excellent job anyway; it gives more satisfaction to know one did the job properly and that the customer and society were well served.

One way to earn better pay would be to form a union and demand it. The Circle cannot act as a union under its current structure. Leaving aside the fragmentation and globalization of our industry, which hinder collective action, membership in our association is open to agencies, corporations, or other potential employers. Whereas the union approach would emphasize the conflicting interests between translators and interpreters, on the one hand, and their employers, on the other, our model seems to emphasize our shared interests; it serves us to be friendly and familiar with agencies and benefit financially as an organization from the higher-priced corporate memberships.

Yet I believe there are other ways to bring up rates and improve quality. Although ATA policy prohibits its members and chapters, including the New York Circle of Translators, from openly discussing rates, shrewd individual linguists will find ways to inquire as to what the going rates for the respective services are. It is a basic aspect of doing business. Anyone who is in the market to buy or sell anything, including labor, has to know what the going rate for it is.

Another obvious way to guarantee quality and boost rates would be by universalizing a very rigorous standard of translator and interpreter certification. But there already are very rigorous standards in place, such as the ATA translator Certification Exam and the Federal Spanish Court Interpreter Certification. These standards tend to require plenty of prior professional education and experience. And more specialization is usually necessary even after certification. In the case of court interpreting, once the interpreter has passed the exams and is permitted to interpret in court, he or she must learn to deal with many issues that come up on the job, such as what to do if the interpreter cannot hear the judge in the heat of a proceeding. Certification exams are probably necessary, but do not address all of the challenges to fully professionalizing the T&I industry.

Linguists indeed also have to understand many aspects of the market, arguably before they seek translator, interpreter, or other related training. For instance, a language student may consider going into translating or interpreting, but which he or she practices and in what branch would depend on 1) how much interpreting would pay as opposed to translating; 2) how much the necessary education will cost; 3) whether to specialize in law, medicine, marketing, or something else; 4) how long it will take him or her to come up to speed once entering the profession; 5) how likely it is that he or she will be able to make a living based on the acquired skills and knowledge, etc.

Much of the professional linguist’s training will be on the job, but prior training as much as possible is desirable, especially for particularly sensitive environments, such as legal or medical interpreting and translation. The Circle needs to be able to offer orientation if not training. This goal of giving an overview of the industry should guide the Circle’s programs and publications.

If potential clients know that we give and facilitate the continuing education of our members, it will give the latter an edge on the market. Conversely, we need to educate these prospective clients about how best to benefit when purchasing translation and interpreting services, as explained eloquently in a general sense in the ATA brochures “Translation: Getting it Right” and “Interpreting: Getting it Right.” The Circle can build further on these guidelines by research and the continuing education of members as well as the Board and the administrator.

The New York Circle’s Outreach Committee, in which I continue to be involved, along with sister organizations such as the IMIA (International Medical Interpreters Association) and ALIGNY (Association of Language Interpreters of Greater New York), is organizing a symposium on interpreting and translation, slated for June of this year. Our goal is to convey and further the professional nature of interpreting and translating, by bringing together a broad spectrum of stakeholders, some of whom will share their presentations.

Once the path to finding high-quality services for clients and the path to fair remuneration for linguists have become transparent, our industry will function better, to everyone’s benefit. The potential positive impact of doing so is so great that some of us, including me, feel compelled to volunteer to achieve it.


About the Author

Leonard MorinLeonard Morin has practiced full time as a translator since 2004. He began his work as an interpreter not long thereafter. He currently works as a per-diem Spanish interpreter certified by the New York State Courts. He also translates chiefly legal documents from Dutch, Spanish, and German into English.

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