“Death by a Thousand Cuts”

By Juan Lizama

It is not the complex syntax, long sentences or technical passages that dash the hopes of most candidates seeking to pass the American Translators Association (ATA) certification exam.

According to ATA exam graders Holly Mikkelson and Paul Coltrin, it is the many one- and two-point errors throughout the exam that add up to a failing grade.

“One of my colleagues calls it ‘death by a thousand cuts’,” Mikkelson said.

Mikkelson and Coltrin recently agreed to review translations into English and Spanish of past ATA exams done by a group of Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters members studying for the exam. The group of about a dozen members meets online on a weekly basis to discuss translation assignments, different resources and strategies for translation. They also correct each other’s work using the ATA list of mistakes and the ATA grading scale. Mikkelson reviewed the Spanish to English translations and their corresponding peer reviews, and Coltrin reviewed the English to Spanish ones. Each of them presented their findings to the group in separate online sessions.

The ATA currently offers exams in 29 language pairs. According to the recent March-April issue of the ATA Chronicle magazine, the overall passing rate for foreign languages into English was 15.81% between 2004 and 2014.  Meanwhile, the overall passing rate for English into foreign languages was 14.11% for the same period.

The vast majority of translations that are out there in the real world, which in some cases are mediocre, fall short in the sense that they are “a word by word rendering of the source text, slavish of the patterns of the source text,” Coltrin said.

“People often say that [a document] ‘smells like a translation’,” Coltrin said in Spanish, quickly switching to English. “And that’s not a compliment when they say that. If it has a strong feel of a translation, it’s probably not a good translation.”

“It’s perfectly fine for the translator to take freedoms in a translation as long as it preserves the meaning and flows nicely,” Coltrin said.

“It’s not just desirable to make the translation smooth and functional,” he said. “It is our obligation.”

Mikkelson echoed Coltrin’s comments, adding that not using common sense and not reading the whole passage before starting the translation has led exam takers to mistranslate parts of the source text.

“They can be prepositions, grammatical mistakes, misspellings that in and of themselves are not serious, but they add up,” Mikkelson said. “Those [errors] may be from carelessness, failure to proofread. They have a ‘yes’ instead of a ‘no’, ‘black’ instead of ‘white’.”

ATA graders use guidelines in the form of a flowchart with a scale of zero to 16 points per error. A score of 17 and under is a passing grade. The mechanical errors, those having to do with the misuse of the target language have a maximum of four points per error. On the second column are errors that can impact content, language use and understanding of a sentence, paragraph, and even the entire text. These errors can be zero to sixteen points.

“I’ve never seen a sixteen-point error,” Mikkelson said. “Even eight-point errors are rare.”

One of the many concrete examples Mikkelson highlighted from the group’s Spanish to English translations was the use of “earth” in a passage about agriculture, instead of using “land” or “soil”. This type of error distorts the meaning because the reader might think the sentence is referring to the planet as a whole.

“This would be a two-point error because it would cause confusion,” she said. “But it doesn’t take out a whole paragraph and the text is still useful.”

Mikkelson advised the group to be careful with the little quirks of English in adverbs such as either…or and neither…nor. Using them with “without” or “not” would make them a double negative. There’s also a reversal of the subject and the verb with the use of these adverbs.

“So you say, ‘neither did he do this’, instead of, ‘neither he did this’; or, ‘only then did I realize, rather than, ‘only then I did realize’,” she said.

Coltrin warned about falling for the traps within the passages, such as punctuation marks. He referred specifically to how the use of the dash in English is so different from its use in Spanish.

“Make no mistake,” he said, “when we choose passages, we like putting that type of challenge in there because it definitely helps us to differentiate between people that really have a strong awareness of Spanish writing conventions and how they are different from English and test takers who don’t have that awareness.”

Coltrin advises to take advantage of the practice tests ATA offers for a fee.

“Sometimes, people waltz in to take the exam, unprepared, and then they are surprised that they didn’t pass,” he said. “Later, they ask for a review of the exam, which is much more expensive.”

They could have gotten that feedback beforehand with the much less expensive practice test, which can be a good tool to prepare.

Coltrin commended the OSTI study group for their approach to preparing not only for taking the exam, but also as a way to become better translators. Mikkelson said that translation is also a great way for interpreters to improve their delivery in the target language.

And the response to the burning question from group of whether they have a chance of passing the exam—which only one member dared to ask Mikkelson—was:

“I did see some good translations there,” she said. “There were definitely some passing translations among the batch. Good luck to everybody.”

About the Author:
Juan Lizama is a native of El Salvador and currently works as a full-time interpreter and translator at OHSU Hospital in Portland, Oregon. He is a participant of the OSTI study group preparing to take the ATA certification exam.

News flash! Court interpreting raise!

OSTI thanks the Oregon Courts for a rate increase for Court Interpreters!

Kelly Mills, Program Manager for Court Language Access Services (CLAS), recently announced that, “Based on the State of Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast (released on June 3, 2016), OJD court interpreters holding OJD Certification or OJD Registered credentials will receive an hourly rate increase of $3.50 per hour on January 1, 2017.”

Click here to see the letter sent by CLAS to Court Interpreters on June 13, 2016.

On June 23, Kelly Mills followed up with this clarification:
“Because there were no increases in 2014, 2015, or 2016, the $3.50 dollar amount is based on the application of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) during those years. The implementation date is based on the state budget cycle and economic forecast. The OJD is committed to periodically reviewing rates and making regular adjustments based upon inflation, market competitiveness, and availability of state funds and resources.

OSTI thanks CLAS for acting on this issue in a timely fashion. Our first OSTI blog post, on July 13, 2013, was about the last rate increase, which had been the first one since 1995. We appreciate this commitment to a periodic review of rates paid to court interpreters. This commitment supports the sustainability of court interpreting as a profession.

Like Minds Meet at ACES

It was an honor for the team from American Translators Association (ATA) and the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI) to interact with hundreds of experts at the recent American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference in Portland, Oregon, from March 31 to April 2, 2016.

Our conversations with ACES members highlighted how our professions complement each other and share mutual interests. Multiple exchanges also underscored the fact that, in general, neither group recognizes the resources that their sister associations have to offer.

Establishing a long-term relationship between our organizations would benefit translation professionals and copy editors alike, including networking and developing new client relationships.

What else did we hear from our copy editor peers at the ACES conference?
Read More

Federal regulations for translation and interpreting in medical settings

Below please find the new federal regulations for interpreting and translation services in health programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Through agencies such as the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), HHS provides federal financial to health programs and activities of local governments, state governments, and the private sector. An entity may receive federal financial assistance from more than one component in the department. For instance, federally qualified health centers receive federal financial assistance from CMS by participating in the Medicare or Medicaid programs and also receive federal financial assistance from HRSA through grant awards.

US HHS rule on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On September 8, 2015 US HHS posted the proposed rule online and opened it for public comments. The comment period closed on November 9, 2015. On May 13, 2016, the HHS Office for Civil Rights issued the final rule implementing of Section 1557. There were 2,166 comments received by US HHS. Comments can be found at this link.

The following language organizations submitted their comments:
• National Association for the Deaf (NAD) 11/17/2015 HHS-OCR-2015-0006-1824
• National Language Access Advocates Network (N-LAAN) 11/17/2015 HHS-OCR-2015-0006-1834
• National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) 11/13/2015 HHS-OCR-2015-0006-1008
• Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WSCLA) 11/17/2015 HHS-OCR-2015-0006-1561
• Language World Services, Inc. 10/30/2015 HHS-OCR-2015-0006-0254

Full text of the rule:
https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/05/18/2016-11458/nondiscrimination-in-health-programs-and-activities#sec-92-201%20

Code of Federal Regulations TITLE 45 PUBLIC WELFARE
Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities
A Rule by the US Health and Human Services Department (HHS) published on May 18, 2016

Highlights of the rule applicable to language access in translation and interpreting for healthcare:

This final rule clarifies and codifies existing nondiscrimination requirements and sets forth new standards to implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in health programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or the Department) and entities established under Title I of the ACA.

Read More

How can I become a licensed translator or interpreter in Oregon?

Recently, one of our readers asked this question and we thought others might benefit from this answer.

In Oregon, the steps to obtaining health care interpreting certification are listed here while information on becoming a certified court interpreter is available here.

OSTI strives to announce all trainings available for interpreting and translation at the OSTI calendar page. It’s also worth pointing out that many courses offered by the Oregon Court interpreting program are beneficial not only to court interpreters, but to those wishing to improve their medical interpreting skills as well.

There is no translation license in the United States. The American Translators Association has a certification process of its own for translators interested in strengthening their resume in this way. OSTI has a study group that is preparing for the ATA certification exam, and we have put together a wealth of information on how to get ready for it here.

There is more information on translation and interpreting certifications on the OSTI website.

ASTM Standards Ensure Translation and Interpreting Quality

On May 19, 2016, Helen Eby, OSTI President, gave a presentation to stakeholders who are representative of the voters of an ASTM ballot. They included representatives from medical interpreting services clients and language services companies, and individual interpreting and translation services providers.

Translation was a relevant topic to interpreters present at the meeting, since compensation surveys show that at least 66% of interpreters also do translation work. Therefore, it behooves interpreters to be aware of translation standards and have some training in the practice.

Attendees had an opportunity to look at complete copies of the Standard – passed around in the room – to corroborate the information and ask questions. Some questions and answers that came up in the discussion were:

Can we have a link to the Standards?
OSTI’s Web page has published an article about the Standards that includes a link for purchasing the full version. See below for the link.

What are some of the issues that come up in translation?
One challenge is that some clients request that Spanish documents be published following English capitalization and punctuation rules.

Read More

Save the Date!

Save the Date!

bend

OSTI THIRD ANNUAL CONFERENCE
September 23 – 25, 2016

Central Oregon Community College
Bend, Oregon 97701

OSTI Spring Social in Portland April 20, 2016

Spring is in the air!

To celebrate spring and our amazing members, OSTI is happy to invite you to join us for a lovely evening to meet and socialize with fellow members who are aspiring and experienced translators and interpreters.

It will be a great opportunity to meet other members in a non-work environment and to share our experiences.

Place, time and cost:
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016, 6:30 p.m – 8:30 p.m.
India Grill
2924 E. Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97214
No host dinner: Click on this link to see the menu and prices of the India Grill.

We hope to see you there!!!

If you have any questions, please contact our VP, Jazmin Manjarrez, by phone (503) 330-3126(503) 330-3126 or by email classymexi55@gmail.com