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.

Updates to the OHA Health Care Interpreting Certification Program

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has updated its application form to match the requirements of the latest Health Care interpreting law.

There have been changes to the following items:

  • Language proficiency level required
  • Certification exams accepted
  • Background checks are now required
  • Hours of interpreting experience required
  • Continuing education requirements

This document explains the rationale for the changes.

This document lists the requirements for Qualified and Certified Health Care Interpreters in Oregon.

This page has the links to the current application forms.

These links were verified on September 21, 2016

Show All Your Cards in Bend, Oregon

Show All Your Cards in Bend, Oregon

At last year’s conference in Portland, attendees had fun picking their top three location choices for OSTI’s 2016 event. Bend was the clear favorite. With its sunny, dry climate, infinite outdoor activities, friendly people, blue skies, and gorgeous mountains surrounding the town, what’s not to love? Come make a long weekend out of it and join us for OSTI’s 2016 conference, “Showing All Your Cards” the weekend of Sept 23-25 at Central Oregon Community College’s Boyle Education Center. Check out our special student and member rates and lock in your early bird ticket pricing today.

Why Should I Attend OSTI’s 2016 Conference?

Ask any OSTI conference goer who’s attended previous events and they will tell you how thoroughly they enjoyed meeting other translator and interpreter colleagues and learning from the diverse group of presenters. The sense of community from being amongst one’s peers is energizing and invigorating. If you’re a court interpreter, you will be happy to learn that the conference will earn you 4.5 general credits from the Oregon Judicial Department. The ATA is offering 7 CEUs for attending the conference and credits have been approved by the Washington DSHS as well. CEUs from the Washington AOC are pending.

Pre-conference Activities

There never seems to be enough time to network and talk to everyone you’d like to during a packed weekend, so this year we built in some additional time for just that. Friday night, September 23, we’ll kick off the weekend with a picnic in Drake Park.

Conference Day, Morning

Saturday, September 24, we have a full day planned starting with a continental breakfast at 7:00am. Morning presenters are Pat Hartley, Bend police detective, who will enlighten us on the ins and outs of the polygraph machine, and Juan Gutiérrez Sanín, MD, sharing with us his in- depth knowledge about genetics, in a presentation that has been approved for 2.0 CEUs through CCHI.


We’re splitting up the day with a long lunch off site. You get to explore the gastronomic delicacies Bend has to offer and either return for OSTI’s annual Board meeting or continue to relax and network over coffee and dessert until the afternoon sessions begin.

Annual Board Meeting

OSTI’s annual Board meeting is open to all who are interested in hearing about the accomplishments and future plans of our growing organization. OSTI members will have the opportunity to hear from and vote on candidates running for three open positions: Treasurer, Director, and President. If you haven’t yet become an OSTI member, the time to do it is now! Only OSTI members can vote on who will hold these important positions on the Board. You must be registered as a member no less than 30 days prior to the conference to be eligible to vote. Apply to become an OSTI member here and get a discount on this year’s conference.

Conference Day, Afternoon

During the second half of the conference, we will hear from local experts Sierra Groenewold and Jacquie Hinds on Behavioral Health and medical interpreting. Martin Cross follows to reveal the secrets of translation for the courts. We’ll wrap up the day hearing from OSTI President Helen Eby, who will speak about the ATA study group, and OSTI members Denise Fainberg and Susanne Kraetschmer, who will share their experiences preparing for, taking, and passing the ATA exam. Not an easy feat but a very timely topic since OSTI will be hosting the ATA certification exam for the second time on Sunday, September 25th from 10 to 1.

Curious Title

Why the title “Showing All Your Cards”? You’ll have to read more on our EventBrite site to get a teaser as to what this title means; the deeper truth behind the selection will be revealed to conference attendees only.  So, get your early bird tickets now before prices go up August 9th and plan some fun activities before and after the event with ideas from Discover Bend.  See you there!

OSTI: Supporting All, Including a Vietnamese Interpreter in Eugene

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.

Bradley Owen, Vietnamese Interpreter
Bradley Owen, Vietnamese Interpreter



“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.