Interpreting in Jail: Is It Safe?

For today's interpreting topic, we'd like to focus on a very specific topic: interpreting in jail.

Most certified or registered court interpreters will at some point find themselves inside the walls of a jail, detention center, prison, juvenile detention facility, etc. Of course, all interpreters have the option of turning down the assignment. If you accept it, here are a few things to keep in mind that Judy has learned from her experiences in Nevada detention centers:

  • You will be locked inside a small room with the defendant and his/her attorney (or other third party). The defendant will usually not be handcuffed, and if you want to leave the room at any point, you have to ring a bell for a guard to come get you. These days, jails and prisons are so overstaffed that this usually takes a long time, so that's not good in case of an emergency. While attorneys have anecdotally told Judy about some scary situations with inmates, we have yet to hear of an incident involving an interpreter, but that certainly doesn't mean it hasn't happened or it won't happen. If you don't like being locked inside small rooms without a cell phone (you might have to leave it in your car) or cell phone reception (if you take it inside), you might want to turn down these assignments.
  • Being female. Most interpreters are female, and statistically, the vast majority if inmates are male, and they have very limited contact with women. Not surprisingly, females (attorneys, social workers, officers, interpreters) are a welcome sight, but be sure to dress conservatively. Avoid low-cut tops, short skirts, high heels, flashy jewelry, large earrings. Keep it very simple and professional, and dress more conservatively than you would usually do.
  • Behavior. Judy has never had an issue with an inmate at all, and every single one of them has been polite. Most of them even jump up when she and the attorney enter the room and offer her the chair (many rooms only have two chairs, so a guard will have to get a second one). Many inmates will perceive the interpreter not as a neutral party that she or he is, but will incorrectly view the interpreter as an advocate. Of course court interpreters are not advocates, but we have yet to see an inmate direct anger towards an interpreter. However, keep in mind that you might be the bearer of bad news: delayed trials, denial of a plea bargain, uncooperative witnesses, an attorney who is withdrawing from the case.
  • Information. Whenever, possible, ask the attorney (or the party for whom you will be interpreting) what the purpose of the visit is so you can prepare yourself both personally and mentally. All visits usually involve quite a bit of sight interpreting of official documents from English into Spanish.
So: is it safe? In general, we would say that yes, it is safe, but just because there are a lot of guards with guns around you doesn't mean that you will be protected at all times. There is always risk with any kind of assignment in a locked facility, so keep that in mind before you accept an assignment behind bars,

We'd love to hear from other colleagues who have experience interpreting in jails or prisons--just leave a comment below. 

Entrepreneurial Linguist Workshop in D.C.: April 18

Spring is in the air (almost) everywhere, including in Washington, D.C., our nation's lovely capital. Judy is excited to head to D.C. this week.  She is also very much looking forward to giving a two-hour workshop at the National Capital Area Translators Association (NCATA), a chapter of the American Translators Association.

We know it is short notice, but the event will be at the popular Goethe Institute, it's on a Saturday, it's free to NCATA members, and the topic should be quite interesting, so we hope that many of you in the D.C. area will join Judy!

The workshop's title is: Web 2.0 and Pricing Basics for Entrepreneurial Linguists. Judy will spend about an hour on each topic and there will be plenty of time for questions. Afterwards, we will head to lunch, and we hear there will also be food at the actual event! And since Judy likes raffles, she will be raffling off copies of our "Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation" books (and she will also bring some to purchase if you don't win).

Please have a look at the NCATA website, where you can also register.

Hope to see you in D.C.!

Breaking News

Created on
To start off the second quarter of 2015, we wanted to share some important news with all of you, dear readers. As you know, we've both been in the translation industry for a long time, and we've tirelessly worked to share knowledge, empower colleagues, improve rates and working conditions, and elevate the status of our professions (translation and interpretation) in general. It's been a lovely ride, and we are so lucky to have amazing clients all over the world and fantastic contractors who make our business what it is. We couldn't be more grateful.

However, building a business is a lot of hard work, as all of you know. We've put in a lot of 100-hour weeks, and while we do take vacations, we usually work even while on vacation. We are a bit tired, so when a great offer came along to sell our business to a big multinational corporation that doesn't care about quality nor the quality of its translators' lives, we jumped at the opportunity. We know it doesn't make much sense and that it goes against everything we believe in, but it was time for us to exit the industry. The time was right. So was the price. As of April 2015, we plan on getting our own Caribbean island and sip fancy cocktails out of coconuts while hard-working translators around the world slave away for nothing and clients get sub-par work at high prices.

Of course we are kidding. Happy April Fools' Day! Did we have you fooled?

If you've read this far, you either know us and our sense of humor, or you were an unsuspecting new visitor who is now shaking his or her head. In either case, thanks for reading.

Nothing we just stated above is true, at all. It couldn't be further from the truth. We made it up, and we had a lot of fun doing it. But we do want to take this opportunity to reiterate how essential it is that we all keep working together as a profession to grow and strengthen it. You know when low prices will end? When translators will stop accepting them. You know when we will get more respect? When we start demanding it. We will continue working towards these goals, and we invite you to join us.

Finally, thank you for all the wonderful clients and contractors who have made Twin Translations what it is. We are so very, very grateful to be in this fantastic business. Our number one goal is to make our clients happy and to treat our lovely colleagues like family, pay them well, and pay them on time. It seems to be working. The first quarter of 2015 was the most successful in our company's history, and we look forward to many more decades of success, friendship, and great memories.

Introduction to Translation Starts 3/31

The new quarter at UC-San Diego starts next Tuesday, and Judy is delighted to be teaching two classes. If you are interested in taking these online courses, which are part of the English/Spanish Translation and Interpretation Certificate, read on and sign up! All classes are offered on the highly sophisticated,  but user-friendly online learning platform Blackboard.

1.) Introduction to Translation: This five-week online course will introduce you to the basics of translation and give you lots of practical information. There's very little theory here. This course will teach you what to expect in the world of professional translation and will give you the building blocks you need to decide if translation is for you. There are two graded translations during the course and plenty of other exercises. No prerequisites.

2.) Strategic Branding and Marketing for Translators and Interpreters: This ten-week online course will give new interpreters and translators (and experienced ones, too!) the tools they need to successfully market their services and make a living in this highly rewarding, but also competitive industry. Most universities don't teach their T&I students anything about marketing, but UC-San Diego is leading the way to give graduates of the certificate these essential skills. Each week includes a PowerPoint with audio lecture on a variety of topics, such as online marketing, offline marketing, website, etc. This class has several prerequisites, so please make sure you are eligible to take it by checking the course program here

If you have any questions about these classes, Judy will be happy to answer them here. Just leave a comment below.

Improve Any Translation: Do This

Today's post is part of the "Quick Posts" series, which are entries you should be able to read in five minutes or less and that give you specific advice that you can implement very quickly.

We oftentimes get this question from students: How do I improve my second translation draft?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Deadline permitting: sleep on it. We are huge believers in negotiating deadlines that allow us to sleep on our second drafts. Translations are always better when you have more time.
  • Print out the translation. Read it on paper. We are tree huggers, but sorry, dear trees. Try to print on recycled paper, though.
After you've done that, read each and every single sentence individually and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this make sense? If not, what can you do about it?
  • Does this sound translated? If yes, what can you do about it?
  • Does this sound idiomatic?  If not, what can you do about it?
  • Would someone who doesn't see the source text understand the target?  If not, what can you do about it?
We hope you have enjoyed today's Quick Post. We'd love to hear from you, too. Just leave a comment below.

2-Day Court Interpretation Bootcamp: Vegas 3/28 + 3/29

If you are looking for top-notch instruction to hone your court interpretation skills -- and perhaps to prepare for the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination in July -- you might enjoy this workshop in sunny Vegas next week. While the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association (NITA), of which Judy is the proud past president, is not organizing the event, the organization is helping promote this two-day workshop here in Vegas presented by well-known interpreter trainer  and federally certified English/Spanish interpreter Alfonso Villaseñor.

Record your renditions!
This might also be ideal for court interpreters in colder climates (pretty much most of the country), as it's currently in the low 80s in Vegas. You might want to combine a trip to Vegas (affordable hotels in the newly hip downtown) with a top-notch professional development opportunity. And for the record, and as always, we are not getting paid to promote this event. Rather, Judy will attend this workshop herself. While Alfonso Villaseñor does not have a website where you can read more about his workshops, please rest assured that he's a fantastic trainer with a lot of experience. His style is also quite unique, and we've both had the pleasure to hear him present at an ATA conference. As opposed to many interpreter trainers and courses targets at those court interpreters preparing for big exams, Alfonso focuses on technique rather on the simply memorizing terminology, which we think is a fantastic idea.

So here's the link to NITA's website, where you can find more information about this event. It's coming up -- next week! The cost is $500 for two days, and it appears to be well worth it.

If you have any questions, please be sure to contact Alfonso Villaseñor directly by clicking here. Note: this workshop is language-neutral.

The Community Interpreter: Salinas, California

It's a great pleasure to announce a fantastic professional development opportunity to our readers and colleagues. Judy has trained with both the fantastic workshop leaders and highly recommends them! Tracy Young is the founding president of NITA, a long-time trainer for Bridging the Gap and Connecting Worlds, and also a registered nurse (plus a certified medical interpreter, of course). Katharine Allen is a graduate of the newly renamed Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (formerly the Monterey Institute of International Studies, MIIS) MIIS) and the co-president of InterpretAmerica. She has given many workshops across the country. Both Tracy and Katharine are highly dynamic speakers with several train-the-trainer workshops under their belts. Their styles are very similar in the sense that they use the Socratic method more often than not -- and their hands-on exercises are fantastic. Judy is a graduate of Tracy's fall 2009 Connecting Worlds workshop, where she learned much of what she knows about medical interpreting. Katharine has given several workshops for NITA, including a popular afternoon of simultaneous interpretation and another one of note-taking. You can't go wrong with these two trainers! Ah, we are so excited about this workshop that it even seems like they are paying us - but we assure you they are not. We are merely posting this as a courtesy to everyone, and because top-notch professional development is always worth it, but sometimes hard to find (there are a lot of pseudo-qualified trainers out there, but we digress).

The Community Interpreter (TCI) is a 40-hour workshop for medical and community interpreters that's required to take the natioanal interpreter certification exams for medical interpreting. It is the only 40-hour training course in the US that specifically teaches community interpreting. It was developed by industry leader Marjory Bancroft of Cross-Cultural Communications. TCI goes a bit beyond Bridging the Gap and Connecting Worlds, and the curriculum looks fantastic. Participants who wish to receive the certificate of training at the end must be tested for language proficiency (the fee is included in the total price). Note: this workshop is language-neutral.

The workshop will be held at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, CA, during the last week of April. For additional information and to sign up, please visit the website

Job Posting: Full-Time Localization Specialists

As most readers know, full-time in-house positions in our industry are quite rare. Judy is one of the dying breed of translators who actually had an in-house position for many years, but prefers to work for herself. 

However, there is much to say for the stability and regular income of an in-house position, and these jobs can also really help hone your translation skills, as you can really focus on translation without having to spend time on other things (marketing, accounting, etc.). That said, there were a lot of meetings that Judy used to have to go to, and not all were productive. But we digress. One of the challenges with the requirements for these positions is that employers mostly want highly experienced linguists, and chances are that these highly experienced linguists already work for themselves (statistically and anecdotally). And it's pretty darn hard to convince established self-employed linguists to go to an office every day and sit in a cubicle, even if the job is very cool. Which leaves the less experienced linguists, who tend to be younger and more interested in a steady job so they can start building their careers. But of course they don't tend to have much experience, creating quite a dilemma. There's no easy solution to this, but this is an issue that Judy ran into frequently when trying to recruit linguists with experience for her in-house team years ago: she just couldn't get experienced people to apply. Now, on to the job posting, we promise!

We just saw these positions announced on one of the listservs of the American Translator Association, where a lovely colleague posted it for all to see. We wanted to share it with all readers here, but want to emphasize that we do not know the company nor do we have any additional information.

There are several jobs for localization specialists, and they are all located in Bellevue, Washington (gorgeous Seattle, basically). Motiga is a company that produced games, which sounds quite fun to us, even though the only game we were ever allowed to play as kids was Pacman at the arcade.

We had a look at Motiga's website and got the impression that it would be a great place to work, but as we said, we don't know anyone there (nor is anyone paying us to post this). For further information, please click on the link above. Best of luck! We'd love to hear if one of our readers gets one of these positions.

Recommended Reading: Marketing Cookbook for Translators

Perhaps the best cookbook we own?
This post marks the return of our recommended reading series, and this is the first book we recommend for 2015. As we've done for many years, we like to recommend good books to our readers. Our rules for reviewing books are simple: we receive quite a few unsolicited books, and even solicited books don't guarantee a review. In general, we see no point in writing unflattering reviews, so we generally don't review books we would not recommend. We did receive a (very welcome) copy of The Marketing Cookbook for Translators by our colleague Tess Whitty (English<->Swedish translator), who lives in Utah, and here's the short version: we like it. Go read it, especially if you are a beginning translator.

Now, here's the longer review. In general, we think the market for self-published books in the T&I industry is getting a bit saturated. Some of the books that have hit the market lately aren't particularly useful, but Tess' book sure is, because it focuses on a very specific area that's particularly challenging and scary to many newcomers (and even advanced translators): marketing. It can all seem a bit daunting when you go out into the big world of translation and try to leave your mark, acquire clients, and earn a living. While there already is a lot of information out there on how to market your services, as far as we know, there previously hadn't been an entire handy-dandy book that focused just on marketing. Now we have one. Reading this book is infinitely easier and more convenient than trying to compile the information from multiple sources such as blogs, newsletters, etc.

We really liked the clever idea of structuring the book like a cookbook, and the entire theme is quite cute and well executed. The book is divided into eight chapters with witty names such as Your Pantry, Appetizers, Side Dishes, etc. Then the individual sections are aptly called Recipes (of which there are 25). Tess' style is clear, easy to read, and direct and insightful. We particularly like Recipe 8, which focuses on the ever-important topic of the website, and includes solid SEO (search engine optimization) advice. We also like the easy-to-locate resources sections that are included for additional reading throughout the book. 

Many readers might recognize Tess from her very active involvement in the ATA and her fantastic podcast called Marketing Tips for Translators (for which Judy has been interviewed). With this book, she's given our industry newcomers a solid guide to marketing their services. No recipe is ever truly foolproof, but with this book, Tess has given you all the right ingredients and plenty of good tips to set you on the right path. However, the hard work is still up to you.

Here's some purchasing information for the book. It will make a great addition to any translator's collection. And for the record, Judy's copy lives in her office, but was only posing on the cookbook shelf for the picture. 

The Voice of Love: Interpreting Compassion

Created on
The Voice of Love, led by highly respected industry veteran Marjory Bancroft, is the only non-profit that we know of that offers interpreting training specifically for linguists who wish to work in social services environments to help survivors of extremely challenging life situations. The rules of court or conference interpreting, or even medical interpreting, simply don't apply here, and interpreters need very specific skills to deal with these delicate interpreting situations. We haven't had any training in how to handle these situations, and neither have most of our colleagues, which is why this training (Voices of Love) is so important. Many well-known interpreting experts from around the country have contributed to the training material that this course is based on, among them our dear colleague Nataly Kelly (co-author of Found in Translation). 

This year's weeklong training session will be held Columbia, Maryland, from May 4 through May 8. We wish it would be closer to the West Coast so we can attend, but our travel schedule is already quite packed this year. However, we hope to attend another time. We have heard great things about this training session and wanted to share the information with you here. Please have a look at the flyer, the Voices of Love website or their informative blog

Join the discussion! Commenting is a great way of becoming part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media are all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times