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.
By Bradley Owen
My name is Bradley Owen and I am a new interpreter working in the Eugene/Springfield sister-city area in the lower Willamette Valley. I moved to this beautiful multicultural community from the East Coast in 2014. I’ve been doing Vietnamese medical interpreting here for about a year, and on a voluntary basis for the last nine years in Vermont and Oklahoma.
After breaking into the professional interpreting field in 2015, I was introduced to OSTI after reaching out to the Oregon Healthcare Interpreter Association (OHCIA) for advice on how to launch as a full-time professional. Then, several members of OSTI, including the President, were kind enough to visit my home for an informational interview a few weeks later in the fall of 2015.
Beginning with our first meeting that evening in September 2015, OSTI has been my main source of information that I trust and rely on for my interpreting work in Oregon. OSTI members form a large professional network throughout the state of Oregon and neighboring states, and they have even helped me make professional connections in other states far and wide around the Pacific Northwest. OSTI is a professional network resource utilized by nationally certified court and medical interpreters, ATA-certified translators, and other professionals who have decades of experience at the leading edge of the industry.
But more importantly, OSTI is a group of professionals seeking to scale up the impact of the work we do for our stakeholders. OSTI works to raise professional standards for the industry, help interpreters and translators be in a position to negotiate appropriate compensation, and provide education and training as well. Without the support of OSTI, I would have had a very hard time climbing the ladder in this extremely dynamic and diverse profession.
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.
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.