SEPIDEH MOUSSAVI: TRANSLATOR AND TRAILBLAZER

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Sepideh is a native of Iran. She began her career translating and interpreting Farsi to and from French and English in her native country where Iranian companies were engaging in substantial trade with the US and Europe. She subsequently moved to France to continue studying French where her long-time interest in medical sciences also led her to enroll in a French pharmacy school for three years.

In 1992, she moved to California where, in addition to working as a translator and interpreter, she obtained a degree in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Health Administration. Ten years ago, she relocated to NYC and started her own Farsi translation practice. Sepideh is a member of the Circle and participated in last year’s Languages of Lesser Diffusion meeting. She considers the Circle to be a valuable part of the development of her business, particularly as regards networking opportunities.

After arriving in NYC, Sepideh applied to become a Farsi/English interpreter in the New York State court system. It was there that she first identified the absence of a language certification process for Farsi. After she passed the court’s written exam, she was surprised to learn that the State did not have an oral exam to test for Farsi language proficiency. In order to become certified to work in the courts, one had to submit letters of reference to the Court which the Court also had to approve, a process which could take as long as two years.

As her business developed, Sepideh continued to see evidence of how the lack of a formal Farsi certification vehicle could limit the ability of qualified Farsi translators to serve their clients effectively. She recalls a situation in which she was helping a family member to obtain a payment from an insurance company by acting as the family member’s interpreter. The insurance company’s policy was not to accept family members as interpreters and brought their own interpreter into the conversation. That interpreter spoke a slightly different dialect and it became an even bigger challenge for the family member to get her questions/points across to the insurance company.  This process delayed and complicated an already sensitive transaction for the family member.

In 2015 Sepideh attended the ATA annual conference in Miami and took part in a ATA Certification workshop. David Stephenson, the chairman of the committee, mentioned that the committee was seeking volunteers. Sepideh volunteered and was able to speak to Mr. Stephenson about the need for a Farsi certification exam. She was immediately thrust into the complex and time-consuming world of ATA certification as the chairperson of the ATA’s Farsi Workgroup.

The ATA sent her a document on how to establish certification for a new language pairing. One of the main requirements was to prove that there was a demand for the certification. Sepideh was required to build a team of four or five qualified Farsi translators who would then be charged with obtaining the signatures of fifty other qualified translators to advocate for the new certification. The team members and the fifty qualified translators all had to be approved by the ATA.

The team building exercise took more than two years and involved sending out massive numbers of emails, tapping her contacts in the community and using platforms such as Word Reference. Many emails were never responded to and some responses were received from translators who lacked the skills and qualifications necessary to be effective advocates for the exam. In 2018 a team was put in place but was eventually dissolved. In 2019 a new team formed, consisting of a PhD in translation, a highly qualified linguist and Farsi Translator and two other highly qualified Farsi/English translators. The qualifications of the new team members were submitted to the ATA and approved.

The next hurdle was to obtain the signatures of the fifty additional qualified translators, twenty-five of whom had to be ATA members. A call to action went out from the team who also reached out to their contacts in the language community, to ATA members and to online language forums. By the beginning of 2020, the necessary signatures had been obtained and were subsequently approved by the ATA.

The team is now working on establishing the certification test and developing materials on how to prepare for it. Eventually the date and locations of the test will be announced by the ATA. It is hoped that this will take place in the next six months to a year.

Sepideh’s story reflects her lifelong commitment to the Farsi community and to  the professionalization of the role of the translator/interpreter in our society. She is a true trailblazer. Thank you, Sepideh, for sharing your inspiring and multi-faceted journey with our readers.

 

 

 

 

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