The February 16 2019 ATA Law Seminar

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By: Bethany Sullivan

I graduated from UConn in 2013 with a degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish. I wanted to do something with language and to be able to travel as much as possible, so when I found out that translation was a viable career option I knew it was the right path for me. Not only can I work with languages and with people from different cultures, but I can also do it remotely, enabling me to go where I want while still earning a living.

I’ve been supporting myself with translation work for the past six months but wanted to explore potential specialization options. Consequently, when I heard about the Charles M. Stern grant and the ATA Law Seminar I was very excited to apply. The Law Seminar was my first ATA event.

The Law Seminar took place in Jersey City on February 16. There were two sessions, each offering an option for translators and one for interpreters. Since I want to be a translator, I attended both of the translation options. Holly Mikkelson led the first session. She has been a Spanish/English legal translator and court interpreter since 1976. She told us that the law profession has many traditions, customs, and rituals and many phrases that date back to Roman times. The profession simply does not want to change or update them, so translators must get used to them while being true to the language and the document being translated. Many times this means that the wording is more concise in languages other than English because other languages don’t necessarily cling to outmoded legal phrases that include redundancies. It came as a relief to me to see that other, more seasoned language professionals in the room seemed as uncertain about some of the terms as I was; I was surprised how much I was able to understand.

Sandro Tomasi led the second session. He is a Spanish/English court interpreter in the Bronx and has written a law dictionary and contributed to others. He also made reference to the complicated nature of legal translation, or in his case, interpretation. He framed it as a ‘filtering process’ that involves taking phrases and filtering them through FOUR different ‘languages’: the source and target languages, and the two law systems in question. For example, if the client is from Brazil but in court in the US, you must consider the Brazilian legal system and the American legal system. He advised us to use the ‘closest natural equivalent’ in the target language; naturally when you are taking four different ‘languages’ into account, there isn’t always a perfect and direct translation. It also stood out to me that his perspective on legal translation echoed Holly Mikkelson’s when he said that talking about translating legal terms is like talking about politics or religion: people are really set in their ways.

The Seminar reminded me how much there is to learn about this vast and complex field, but also showed me how interesting and varied it can be. I would not have been able to attend this event without the Charles M. Stern grant, and I want to thank the New York Circle of Translators Board for selecting me as a recipient of this honor. It was an excellent experience and I learned a lot.

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