The Translators and Interpreters of Tomorrow: OSTI School Outreach

By Emily Safrin



I’ll admit it: despite my enthusiasm to accept an invitation to copresent on translation and interpreting (T&I) at a local high school, I was nervous. If my own high-school experience was any indication, surely the students could laugh us right off the figurative stage. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

At the invitation of a teacher at iTech Preparatory in Vancouver, Washington, fellow OSTI member and Membership Committee Chair John Wan and I prepared a presentation on T&I careers this past February. Our different paths complement one another well: John works as a Mandarin-language court interpreter, whereas I focus on Spanish-English medical translation and have also interpreted in health-care settings.

On the morning of February 8th, 2018, we drove to Vancouver to present. We were impressed to learn shortly beforehand that the class was completely focused on T&I. Nonetheless, we planned to open with a comparison of translation and interpreting—surely the natural place to begin for most audiences. But the students’ knowledge quickly exceeded our expectations: they had no trouble uniformly explaining the difference between the two professions. With that out of the way, we turned to a discussion of what it takes to be a translator or interpreter, centered around the question, “Is being bilingual enough?”

With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games having commenced just the day before, we used an Olympics-themed analogy to make our point, asking students, “What would it take for you to compete against Usain Bolt?” (These bright students needed no introduction, but for anyone unfamiliar: Bolt, who made his Olympic debut in 2004, is widely recognized as the greatest sprinter of all time.) It took no more than one response to cut to the chase: “Legs!”

Our point was that many things make Bolt the best in his sport, but without one vital “tool” in particular—his legs—none of those traits or skills would matter, because he wouldn’t even be able to set foot on the track. The same goes for T&I: to even attempt to perform the task, being bilingual is a prerequisite, but it hardly makes you the Usain Bolt of T&I. All it does is allow you to “compete”—that is, perform the task, however spectacularly or poorly you may perform. Put another way, without knowing at least two languages, you wouldn’t be able to even make an attempt at translating or interpreting, but just because you’re bilingual (or have legs) doesn’t mean you’re any good at the undertaking; it takes a natural adeptness and plenty of practice.

Having gotten this ubiquitous question out of the way, we talked about what it really takes to be a translator or interpreter and what the two different careers look like. We shared photos of the many settings where interpreters work: hospitals, court rooms, law firms, conferences, the United Nations, and via video remote interpreting. The photos of translation settings were somewhat less glamorous, mostly involving computers and dictionaries—but I assured them the task was no less enthralling, and I think by the end of the morning they were convinced!

With the necessary skills in mind, we asked students to try their hand at translating. To do this, we tied in the inevitable topic of machine translation (MT) by presenting students with a Spanish proverb and asking them to best suggestions by Google Translate and DeepL. The slide looked something like this:

Spanish proverb: A caballo regalado, no le mires el dentado.

Google Translate’s attempt: On a gift horse, do not look at the teeth.

DeepL’s attempt: On a gift horse, don’t look at the toothed horse.

In no time, a student provided the equivalent phrase in English: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” His classmates seemed duly impressed by their peer’s ability to easily one-up the highly touted MT engines, proving, albeit in a simplified sense, that human translators continue to serve an essential and as-of-yet irreplaceable role in intercultural and interlinguistic communication. (We were sure to address the usefulness of MT in given scenarios, but we also wanted students to recognize how their humanity sets them apart from the growing machine workforce.)

Following the translation activity, John described a typical day on the job as a court interpreter, and I explained my work as a self-employed translator, complete with commute from bed to desk. We also showed a clip from a Ted Talk on consecutive note-taking, with hopes to do an interpreting role play, but thanks to a flood of thoughtful questions throughout the presentation, we had to cut the agenda short.

Here are just a couple of the students’ questions:

  • (After I showed them a photo of a frazzled woman at a computer representing the translator’s work environment): “What are some of the challenges you face when translating?”
  • “How long are you given to complete a translation project?”
  • “What do you charge for a translation?”
  • “What dictionaries do you use? Have you heard of Context Reverso?” (I had not, but I’ve since compared it to Linguee, with interesting results.)

Finally, we quickly touched on certification, education, and training opportunities in T&I, as well as professional organizations (including OSTI, of course!).

When it came time for photos, we asked students to choose a prop that represented the profession they were most interested in from items we had brought (dictionaries and laptops were to symbolize translation and microphones and headsets symbolized interpretation). There were more budding translators than interpreters, but the interpreters made up for this in their delight with the interpreting equipment.

By the time we left, I forgot that I had even been nervous beforehand. I felt exhilarated—not to mention enthusiastic about the future of T&I. Seeing students so engaged with our work reminded me of how lucky I am to love what I do, and I returned to work that afternoon with a renewed sense of pride and satisfaction.

The following day, I shared our materials with the teacher via email. She sent thanks and a reflection on the impact of our talk, which meant as much to me as I’m sure it did to her: “When I saw my least motivated heritage student pick up the biggest dictionary, I knew she was inspired to be a translator because of you.”

Needless to say, we’re grateful to have had the chance to spend time speaking with the translators and interpreters of tomorrow, and we look forward to seeing other OSTI members do the same. If you’re interested in participating in school outreach, drop us a line!



Success update on Worker’s Comp!

We have an update on the advocacy that OSTI has been advancing with regards to interpreter payment and policies for worker’s comp medical appointments*, and SPOILER – it’s good news!

On January 23, Fred Bruyns, Policy Analyst for the Worker’s Compensation Division, sent out their proposed updates to the worker’s compensation rules, which included this, under the new medical services rules (emphasis mine):

436-010-0225 Choosing a Person to Provide Interpreter Services

(1) A worker may choose a person to communicate with a medical provider when the worker and the medical provider speak different languages, including sign language. The worker may choose a family member, a friend, an employee of the medical provider, or someone who provides interpreter services as a profession. However, a representative of the worker’s employer may not provide interpreter services. The medical provider may disapprove of the worker’s choice at any time the medical provider feels the interpreter services are not improving communication with the worker, or feels the interpretation is not complete or accurate.

(2) When a worker asks an insurer to arrange for interpreter services, the insurer must use a certified or qualified health care interpreter listed on the Oregon Health Care Interpreter Registry of the Oregon Health Authority, available at: If no certified or qualified health care interpreter is available, the insurer may schedule an interpreter of its choice subject to the limits in subsection (a).

(3) For the purpose if this rule, interpreter services means the act of orally translating between a medical provider and a patient who speak different languages, including sign language. It includes reasonable time spent waiting at the location for the medical provider to examine or treat the patient as well as reasonable time spent on necessary paperwork

* Reminder Note: While the Worker’s Compensation Division (WCD) oversees the medical side of Worker’s Comp claims, the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) oversees the administrative hearing side of claims, and has a different payment policy. This advocacy was specifically for the medical side.

Thank you for your support!

For a recap on how we got here, please read this update from the OSTI Blog:

OSTI’s Advocacy Regarding the Worker’s Compensation Division’s Medical Interpreter Policies*

* Note: While the Worker’s Compensation Division (WCD) oversees the medical side of Worker’s Comp claims, the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) oversees the administrative hearing side of claims, and has a different payment policy. This advocacy was specifically for the medical side.

As some of you may have heard, last year the Oregon Worker’s Compensation Division (WCD), which oversees medical appointments for patients seeking treatment for injuries sustained on the job, modified their interpreter payment policy so as to increase the amount paid to interpreters for their work during WCD medical appointments. This was good news! However, after reviewing the new payment policies, two glaring issues became apparent:

  1. There was a major discrepancy between the WCD’s own definition of “Interpreter.” In the “Definitions” section, it is plainly stated that a friend or family member may not act as an interpreter during a medical appointment. However, later in the policy, the section on interpreter services begins with a different definition of “interpreter” which in fact, encourages claimants to invite a friend or family member to interpret. As you no doubt know, inviting interested, untrained parties to act as ad hoc interpreters is in no way a best practice, and can result in dire physical and legal consequences for the claimant.
  2. Interpreters for medical appointments were not guaranteed payment. The policy makes a distinction between several kinds of appointments and, for some appointments a no-show or too-late-show by either claimant or provider, and late cancellations, would result in non-payment for interpreters. What’s more if the claim is denied and the interpreter is billing the insurance company, the interpreter would not be paid. That section invites interpreters to bill the claimant(!) which is one of the Title VI violations mentioned earlier. While payment for no-shows and late cancellation falls under industry standard and professional practices, non-payment for denied claims would make an interpreter interested in the outcome of a claim, which nullifies his or her impartiality.

OSTI Vice President, Jazmin Manjarrez, brought these issues to the OSTI Board’s attention several months ago. She contacted the WCD’s Rules Coordinator, Fred Bruyns, to ask how to go about changing these rules.


After months of correspondence and a formal request for a rules change, on Monday 11/27/17, OSTI member Joan Milligan and OSTI Advocacy Committee Chair Jessica Dover attended the annual Worker’s Compensation Division’s Administrative Rule Revision meeting in Salem Oregon. Joan took the lead on researching and organizing materials for this meeting; she painstakingly reviewed the entire WCD policy to see if there were more issues to bring to their attention (and there were), and she researched and printed the section of Title VI which addresses linguistic equal access for LEP persons and, specifically, the requirement for professional interpreters, which supports our arguments. In fact, that section gives specific examples of violations and one references a government agency that expects LEPs to bring a friend or family member to interpret for them.

The WCD has published Joan and Jessica’s pre-prepared notes and Joan’s highlighted Title VI printout on their website, which you can access here:

In attendance at the 11/27/17 meeting, in person and telephonically, was a mixture of about 20 representatives from the WCD, insurance companies, providers, health care systems, at least one interpreting agency, and, of course OSTI. There were many items on the agenda that had nothing to do with interpreters, however please see pages 16 and 17 of this document, as that is when Joan and Jessica were given the opportunity to present their arguments and notes:

For an audio recording of Jessica and Joan’s comments to the board, skip to time signature 2:02:00 here:

Joan and Jessica tailored their arguments to the issues on the WCD agenda. While WCD representatives themselves seemed interested, receptive, and supportive. The main pushback came from some providers, who preferred to use their in-house staff to interpret whenever possible as opposed to certified interpreters, and the insurance companies, who emphasized patient “choice” of interpreter (the logic being that the patient can choose their provider, so they should be able to choose their interpreter). Jessica and Joan pointed out that if a patient does not have guidance as to where to find a certified and qualified interpreter, they are most likely going to bring an interested party (a friend, coworker, supervisor, or family member), which is ethically unacceptable. Expediency was another reason that health care systems and providers gave for why they must use the claimant’s supervisor or family member as an interpreter, as many claims start as emergency situations after an on-the-job injury. Joan and Jessica pointed out that telephonic and video remote interpreters are always an option in that situation, and that since these medical appointments are quasi-legal and may result in a complaint and ultimately a hearing, great care must be taken with even the most basic of intake forms to ensure that expediency does not trump quality. They emphasized the importance of accuracy and compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Most of the advocacy around the no-show and cancellation policies occurred during the meeting breaks, in conversation with Fred Bruyns of the WCD. Given the limited time assigned to these issues, it was not possible to address every bullet point of Joan and Jessica’s pre-prepared notes, however the main issues were addressed and their presentation seemed to have a positive impact on the Worker’s Comp Division, as Mr. Bruyns wrote this follow up on Tuesday 11/28/17:

Thank you for joining us yesterday and for your advice on use of interpreter services and payment for those services in the workers’ compensation system. I have distributed your document, as well as the Title VI information, to additional staff members here – it is also posted to our website.

We think that before we can consider some of your recommendations, we should look into Title VI requirements and assess whether we are in compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Clearly, if we are not, that would be a serious matter and necessitate some changes.

OSTI will continue to follow up on the WCD’s progress on their Title VI review and the implementation of our changes to their policies.

Notice of OSTI Board Meeting

Following is the Notice of the next OSTI Board Meeting:

Date: January 25, 2017
Time: 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Place: Sylvan Heights Community Center
7600 SW Barnes Rd.
Portland, OR 97225

This will be an in-person only meeting.  OSTI Board meetings are open to OSTI members in good standing.

Not Just a Conference: Reflections by a First-Time ATA Attendee

-By Emily Safrin

I had been to my fair share of translation and interpreting conferences. But I hadn’t seen anything quite like ATA.

The 57th Annual American Translators Association Conference, which took place in San Francisco last month, attracted nearly 2,000 attendees this year—the event’s third largest draw since its inception.

The hubbub of opening day began with the popular Buddies Welcome Newbies program, which pairs veteran ATA conference-goers with first-timers to show them the ropes by sharing a meal and attending one session together. The crowd at the popular event overflowed into the hallway as organizers shared helpful tips, including one from former OSTI President Helen Eby, whose simple advice to clip a pen to one’s conference badge I found especially helpful over the coming days of fast-paced networking and note-taking.

From there, I ventured into the hotel’s ample neo-futuristic atrium (which another attendee later informed me is the largest hotel atrium in the world) for the welcome reception. Fellow OSTI member Sarah Karten and I joined the long lines of hungry conference-goers eager to partake in the Asian-inspired buffet. The crowd was buzzing and it didn’t take long before I was overwhelmed by the noise and the limited space (even in the world’s largest hotel atrium!). We decided to weave our way out of the crowd and ride the pill-shaped elevators up to the 14th floor to catch a glimpse of the bay. That night I could hardly fall asleep over the sound of my nervous and excited heartbeat.

The next three days were sprinkled with one-hour session slots broken up by several half-hour coffee breaks in the exhibit hall and intermittent general events. The biggest draw for me was the sessions: the diverse offering of 170 in total ranged from topics as specific as the CRISPR system of genome editing to those as general as how to price one’s work. Even participants working in niche markets were likely to find something relevant to them: for example, translation in culinary arts and interpreting for psychiatric interviews.

Those with language pairs other than the ubiquitous Spanish-English were especially pleased by the opportunity to sit in on language-specific presentations. Fellow OSTI member John Wan, an Oregon-certified court interpreter (Mandarin-English), told me that even though his language combination is far from uncommon, it’s still challenging to come across programs dedicated to his working languages (even online), and he relished the opportunity to attend a Chinese-specific session.

With so much to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin. ATA veterans often recommend attending one “wild card” session—a topic that you may normally gloss over. I wasted no time in sitting in on one such session, on the topic of Japanese-English literary translation. I have no experience with literary translation (other than consuming its fruits as a reader), nor do I know a word of Japanese. In fact, I can’t even recall having read any Japanese literature in translation. None of this mattered; I was absolutely rapt listening to Haruki Murakami’s long-time translator Jay Rubin reflect on his career as the translator of authors both living and dead.

Rubin delighted in his recollections of being able to consult with the prolific Murakami after spending so long trying to channel the spirit of the long-deceased Soseki (quite literally, on one occasion, when Rubin spent an entire evening sitting in an office filled with Soseki’s work in a sort of intellectual séance). Rubin shared the hilarious story of his first encounter with Murakami: he had been diligently translating the author’s 600-page Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and proudly saved his questions—all 30 pages of them—until that day. The two saw day turn to night as they tirelessly reviewed Rubin’s every doubt: was the “water drop pattern” of a tie actually a water drop pattern, given the recurring water theme in the novel, or was it just polka dots? Murakami’s reaction to Rubin’s 30 pages was: “What the hell, it’s just a novel.”

Besides that one wild card session, for the most part I indulged in what are for me the usual suspects, mostly in the “Independent Contractor” category: ensuring payment (Ted Wozniak), translator “blind spots” (Chris Durban), referral selling (Maryam Abdi), and breaking into niche markets (Christelle Maignan). Maryam Abdi convinced a roomful of attendees of the power of employing tactful strategies to land referrals from existing clients. The best time to ask for a referral, she said, is when a client compliments your work. Chris Durban encouraged us to treat our work very seriously and to be ever aware of our own faults, which we so easily overlook.

My experience was so rich, and yet I was only able to participate in a tiny fraction of all the conference had to offer. One morning I opted to skip out on the sessions altogether to enjoy several hours of engaging conversation with a colleague I had known only online up until then. The choice was easy after the realization I had that first night at the overcrowded welcome reception: there is no “right way” to do the ATA conference. There is such a vast offering that there is simply no way you could do it all.

Beyond the educational sessions, there were plenty of opportunities to network. The job fair, with tables hosted by nearly 30 agencies, offered a great opportunity to connect with new clients. Lines were long and piles of resumes high as attendees waited their turn to deliver their elevator pitches to agency representatives. The exhibit hall, filled with agencies eager to meet new collaborators, was another likely place to make a connection. There was also the Brainstorm Networking event, an activity best compared to a speed dating game for freelance language professionals, where attendees rotated from table to table to discuss common dilemmas.

In a small space filled with nearly 2,000 people who share the same interests, it’s easy to strike up a conversation no matter where you find yourself: near the coffee pots, on your way to the next session, even in line for the bathroom! It’s exhilarating to know that anyone you cross paths with will understand what you do, no explanation needed.

As a result of networking during the conference, I have already collaborated on a project with a colleague I spent time with there, completed a project for a client I met at the job fair, and referred a project outside my scope to someone I was introduced to over a coffee break.

Time flew, and before I knew it I was watching Wilhelm Weber deliver his keynote address on the final day. Weber, who served as chief interpreter at 13 Olympic Games, was so modest and familiar in his speech that I almost felt as though we were his grandchildren sitting around the dining table listening to Granddad wax nostalgic about his long career. His unexpected final words left us with a collective sense of pride, not to mention a good laugh: the conference happened to be scheduled just prior to this year’s divisive election, and Weber confessed that though he had promised not to get political, he couldn’t help letting one reference slip: “Let’s make our profession great—not ‘again.’”

With that I departed from San Francisco with a notebook full of brilliant ideas and a lot of thinking to do. Not only did I meet new colleagues, make new friends, and gain invaluable knowledge about our profession over those few days; I also learned something about the conference itself—something I’m sure anyone who has attended would agree with: the ATA conference is no more “just a conference” than any translator would purport to argue that Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is “just a novel.”


Please note that the address for tonight’s Board Meeting has changed.  It will be held at  the following condo.

Here is the address:
Sylvan Heights
7734 SW Barnes Rd.,  Unit H
Portland, OR 97225

Notice of OSTI Board Meeting

Following is the Notice of the next OSTI Board Meeting

Date: October 25, 2016
Time: 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Place: Sylvan Heights Community Center
7600 SW Barnes Rd.
Portland, OR 97225

Please find the agenda below.   This will be an in-person only meeting.  OSTI Board meetings are open to OSTI members in good standing.

Agenda October 2016



Reflections on the 2016 OSTI Annual Conference

-by Jazmin Manjarrez

On a beautiful sunny weekend in Bend, Oregon, a group of translators and interpreters came together to celebrate the Third Annual Conference of the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters.

Friends and colleagues gathered to share coffee and pastries, in anticipation of a promise of an exciting day of learning.

First up was Detective Pat Hartley.  He was very knowledgeable and forthcoming as he took us behind closed doors to a place most of us have never been: the process of polygraphs while working with interpreters.  What truly happens as the process of a polygraph begins, adding to the mix an interpreter?  He walked us through the initial interviews; deciding if the subject is fit for a polygraph, and how the detectives work closely with an interpreter to ask the crucial questions.  It was all so very interesting.

Up next was Cindy Roat, who spoke to us about technology and how it can be incorporated into language access in healthcare.  Who knew there were so many technologies being developed specifically for language, some more effective than others. What does the future have in store?  Will interpreters and translators eventually be replaced?  Interpreters and translators have a keen sense that observes and detects little nuances that machines could never do.  Not to mention machines could never understand culture in healthcare.  As a colleague once said, “machines do words, people do languages.”

After a well-deserved lunch break, we quickly got back to business.  The Annual Board meeting got on the way.  Various reports were presented to the members, including the treasurer, membership, Facebook progress, etc.  Then the time came to elect a new OSTI president, director and secretary.  Each candidate spoke eloquently as to why they were running for the respective posts.  Our members asked candidates about their vision for OSTI, and how OSTI will advocate for the profession, among other things.  The votes were in, members had spoken, and a new board emerges.  Congratulations to Lois Feuerle, president, Susanne Kraetschmer, director, and Svetlana Ruth, secretary.

Time for the learning to continue.  Jacquie Hinds and Sierra Groenewold, LPC  delivered the challenges of interpreting in behavioral health.

The group is hungry for more knowledge, some eagerly awaiting our presenter Martin Cross, none more interested than our translators as to what this knowledgeable man would reveal.   Translation is tricky, but we already knew that, yet Martin brought up some excellent points keeping our audience engaged.

As we near the end, we discuss the ATA exams.  Susanne and Denise share their experiences preparing and taking the ever so challenging exam.  The participants were quickly engaged and enthralled by the complexity.  We learned that the best resources are paper dictionaries, technology not so much.  We found out that soon the ATA would be rolling out a keyboarded exam, a relief for many hoping to take the exam next year.  This year there were seven individuals who signed up to take the ATA exam the day after the conference, and we wished them the best of luck!

Also, this year OSTI organized an ATA exam study group, the brainchild of Helen Eby.  She and the study group briefly shared what it was like to study as a group and how they supported each other in this grand adventure.

As the conference ends, we thank the organizers, presenters, table guests for making this year’s conference a success.  Moreover, a very special thank you and a well-deserved standing ovation is given to our departing President, Helen Eby.

A great day of learning and networking was had by all.  Many head out for some food and libations, while others begin their journey back to Portland. We say goodbye to our colleagues; good luck and good night, see you next year at OSTI’s Fourth Annual Conference.