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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Interpreting  »  Master Lankenau x Dr. Pinheiro: Talking about Interpreting

Master Lankenau x Dr. Pinheiro: Talking about Interpreting

By Marcia Pinheiro | Published  10/26/2016 | Interpreting | Not yet recommended
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Marcia Pinheiro
inglés a portugués translator
View all articles by Marcia Pinheiro

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Master Lankenau

Certified Court Interpreter
Portuguese & Spanish
Court Appointed tri-lingual mediator
Member Medical Interpreter Network
International Arbitration, Trade Negotiation

MD Gyn Obs.
MBA International Management
Atlanta, GA, USA

E-mail:  [email protected]

Dr. Marcia Pinheiro

Lecturer at IICSE University
Certified Translator and Interpreter
Portuguese & English
NAATI  40296         
Member: PROz, RGMIA, Ancient Philosophy

PhD in Philosophy and Mathematics
Master in Philosophy
Certified TESOL/TEFL professional
Licentiate in Mathematics
PO Box 12396 A’Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC, AU, 8006

Tel 0416915138

Master Lankenau, tell us a bit about your experience with evaluation and accreditation of interpreters, please. 

Sure, Dr. Pinheiro. First, we need to separate online from actual live courtroom scenario evaluation: Online is limited primarily to the evaluation of recorded disc or streamed tests. In the case of court interpreting, these cover examples of sight, simultaneous and consecutive interpretation. Every online testing entity has their own particular evaluation chart with all the specific things to be listened for, and each of these has a weighted point system for deductions based on specific and/or overall importance to the particular subject matter being tested. Overall, it’s pretty cut and dry, giving the evaluator a fairly accurate, albeit rather rudimentary, sense of a students’ interpreting abilities/skill level.
Some of the main things one listens for are:
·  Knowledge of the language pair and its nuances.
This includes knowing the legal definitions as well as their lay language equivalents.
·  Fluidity and ease of expression while interpreting.
In other words, feeling comfortable or at home when using the language pair.
·  Comprehension and proper use of terminology when interpreting.
·  Accuracy and how well the language register is maintained.
This includes capacity to establish hierarchy of importance of the units of reference, and also text analysis, such as being able to recognize sentences and embedded ones within these.
·  Measuring how well a student remembers and how well it is recalled visually (sight translation) and orally (simultaneous and consecutive), when interpreting in each modality.
A live courtroom evaluation, whether in a mock trial setting or shadowing the interpreter in an actual trial, would include all the previous evaluation points mentioned plus the following;
·  Alertness; effective listening and observation.
·  Amount of effort placed in pre-trial preparation.
This includes familiarization with charges and other pertinent facts in designated case prior to initiating assignment.
·  How well student conveys culture without engaging in a cultural role.
This includes the ability to convey total and complete impartiality at all times while
simultaneously interpreting gestures, facial expressions  and voice tonality of the witness.
A contributing factor that’s often given a cursory glance or simply overlooked is the case material that’s used in developing the various stages for testing of the student. A good number of the online courses use actual cases. These are redacted of the real names and addresses of all those involved and, with slight modification, the remainder of the trial facts are left pretty much as is. Most of these test cases are selected to offer a broad cross section of misdemeanor and felony crime jury trial cases. Courses wishing to reflect a more comprehensive selection will include bench trial traffic court, civil and juvenile cases. These last two usually include divorce actions and truancy. For the most part, online courses try to offer as wide and varied a spectrum of examples of what interpreters may face in the course of their career as court interpreters.
Medical interpreting differs mainly in that the interpreter is considered an advocate for the patient and not merely a transmitter of charges and responses as in a trial situation. You could postulate that the relationship of interpreterpatientphysician is symbiotic. The patients depend on the interpreter not only to inform the physician regarding what ails them but also to be aware of important nuanced differences in culture that may influence or affect treatment procedures. Besides the necessity of being well grounded in the use and comprehension of medical terminology, the medical interpreter needs to ascertain that the patient completely understand whatever procedure is prescribed but also that the physician be entirely aware of any apprehensions held by the patient and, through the interpreter, put the patient at ease.    

Master Lankenau, I was thinking that this was going to be just one more blog post but your contribution is looking more like something spectacular. This has made me more aware of my inability to predict outcomes with regards to conversations with other experts. Thanks for the teachings received, but now I will have to try to concentrate on just one of your points, since this is supposed to be a blog post, not a book, but your knowledge and capacity of writing about things leads me to think that we should be writing a book, not a blog post.
The point I want to focus on is actually knowledge: Master Lankenau, I get, from your writing, that knowledge of the type words and situations is very important in your assessment.
I actually think that the investments made in the profession and professionals of the profession so far are close to laughable, so that I always think of relieving them, and therefore also us two, from whatever could be seen as unnecessary.
One of the ideas that occurred to me was that we could demand that every courtroom had an up-to-date computer that the interpreter could be using, a computer containing at least three lexicons, two monolingual and one bilingual, with expedite search and largest amount of entries allied to best quality as possible.
I totally think that we are not walking lexicons, and vocabulary might be a detail, not a basic item. I definitely think that we should enjoy way more space than we do, and it all starts with resources. In what comes to telephonic interpreting, for instance, we cannot be obliged to have such a wonderful capacity in terms of memory: It is either a job that obliges us to visit the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy when we make our basic decisions, and therefore a job that in much resembles, in its most fundamental functions, an academic job, a job that is made for the top intellectual, or a job where we go at most to the application level of things when making basic decisions, so that we are trained to simply repeat and perhaps locate things quickly in our memory records.
I think one thing opposes the other in nature, so that we should definitely weaken the requirement on knowledge of words and situations.
I was recently queried by the government of Australia in terms of court interpreting, and I did present the suggestion I here mention.
With telephonic interpreting, I did not have the same luck, but I still presented my suggestion on a blog post: That we have a special gadget, designed exclusively for our profession, something like a set of headphones with buttons that say relay, stop, and record, so that we wear these headphones when serving others. We would then receive the message in the origin language through one ear, say right, get it recorded by the headphones, and press the other button, relay, after pressing stop by the end of the message.
In this way, we will be hearing what they say in our ear, say left, as we relay the message in the target language, what will have to mean more accuracy and also more technical training.
One must remember that we can always learn how to use a gadget well, but it is very hard to imagine how we could fix memory problems, so that this has to be what is rational for the profession.

Dr. Pinheiro, that’s a very commendable proposal you made to your government and perhaps someday, in the not too distant future, such a device as you describe may become a reality. However, even if an apparatus of that nature were available today, it would necessarily be limited for use by interpreters relaying what’s being spoken in the simultaneous rather than the consecutive mode. We have a saying in Portuguese, A teoria na prática é outra, which basically means theory once put into practice is something else. Due to the nature of a Q & A session between a witness and the prosecution and/or defense attorney, having to take time to press buttons on a headphone set would be both impractical and distracting, not only to the interpreter using it but also to the jurors, judge and attorneys awaiting the interpreted rendition of what is being said. Most of the courtrooms I work in do supply headphones, particularly when there is more than one non-English speaking person involved as a witness in the case and that may have to testify at some time during the procedure. In these instances, there are usually two interpreters; one to consecutively interpret the witness on the stand and the other interpreting simultaneously into a mouth-covering microphone transmitting to the headsets worn by the non-English speaking witnesses. This is particularly useful during the often long opening and closing arguments by both the prosecution and the defense. During the Q & A of a witness, there is the occasional attorney with a penchant for long-winded questions. This is an interpreter's nightmare in consecutive mode. This is something most online court interpreter programs prepare their students for by constantly emphasising the importance of good note taking. For the most part though, in many instances the judge him or herself will curtail this by having the attorney rephrase, allowing the interpreters more time to gather their thoughts and check notes.
The fact of the matter is that most of the MTs  (mechanical translating) devices currently being tested, and those available for limited applications, still have a very long way to go before they will be accepted for use in a courtroom setting, where precision and clarity of comprehension is of paramount importance. The MTs that are available, albeit for limited use, are being experimented for use in large conference settings, for simultaneous interpreting, and for a limited number of languages, most notably Spanish and Chinese. Even in these instances the subject matter may need to be pre-programmed into the device and the speaker must keep to the original text. Any deviation or use of colloquialisms or unfamiliar idiomatic expressions will throw the MT translation off.    
Master Lankenau, your experience is extremely valuable, no doubts about it, but I was actually referring to telephonic interpreting, and to the interpreter: We would receive our calls, accept our jobs, and then press the buttons by the end of the lines of the speaker, so that we could hear what they said again in one of our ears and relay to the NES or to the English speaker. I am absolutely sure that would raise our standards, not the opposite. At the moment, we are having to make lots of notes, then read them as we relay to try to keep accuracy to maximum. With this system, our notes would be a secondary source, and the accuracy levels would be much higher. I take you are actually suggesting that we have this system, of headphones, initially imagined as a tool for telephonic interpreting, used also for onsite jobs. In fact, we could have a similar system, not the same, for the interpreter to use when doing onsite jobs, so say a device that they would carry, with a matching ear bud, a one-ear bud, with the purpose of recording what is said by the source and having a second aid, on top of the notes, coming through our ear after we press the relay button by the time of relaying the message to the target. I do think this system may serve us well also there, but the devices would be different, very different. In both cases, who wears or carries the device is the interpreter, Master, not anyone else. This is all to help the interpreter in terms of their basic functions, not the others. As for MTs, I completely agree with you: They can’t, and shouldn’t, be used in interpreting. I agree that interpreters and translators are essential parts of the process of translation and interpretation whilst human beings, that there is no possible replacement for the human judgement that is necessary for the results of the work to match our chosen standards. Our work is very much to the highest levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy, so that it is not really possible to sustain that a machine would someday be the same as us, who would say better? Occasionally, with one paragraph or two, informal communications, it is even possible to get a machine to replace us with gain, but not in a long session or in a formal document. As you said, what I have called localisms in my writing is indeed important, but there are also aspects of human history (date of the document and place of origin matter quite a lot even in terms of calligraphy), artistic writing, bad writing, cultural addictions, and other factors that create the necessity of the existence of a human being in this so impressive and fundamental connection between origin-language and target-language discourse. I would like to beg you to read Translation Techniques because there I talk about the Bloom’s Taxonomy being used as a tool to measure quality and amount of work performed by us, translators and interpreters.

Dr. Pinheiro, I am familiar with the paper you mention and would only add that with the assessment of interpreters, the skills that count the most are mental agility, linguistic flexibility, analytical skills and a heightened awareness of language usage and cultural differences. Since we seem to share similar interests in the study of the skills needed for achieving more effective and efficient translating and interpreting, perhaps in the near future we may cover the topic in more detail. It’s been a pleasure exchanging ideas with you.

Same from my end, Master Lankenau: A pleasure. My heart gets the impression that you should belong to the industry for even several lives because nothing is more important than love for what we do. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you. 


Pinheiro, M. R. (2012). How to Deal with the Gaps in Professional Translation?

Pinheiro, M. R., Magagnin, P. (2016). Dr. Pinheiro and Dr. Magagnin in Translation and Poetry.

Pinheiro, M. R. (2015). Translation Techniques. Communication & Language at Work, 4(4).

Pinheiro, M. R. (2014). Translation and Interpretation: Volume 1. CreateSpace.

Pinheiro, M. R. (2016). Certificate in Translation.

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