Keeping Your Distance

View from US District Court, Reno, NV.
If you are intrigued by the title of today's post, you might or might not be a court interpreter. If you are (and even if you are not), please read on for today's brief comments on ethics and keeping your distance.

One of the pillars of the code of ethics for court interpreters is neutrality: we don't get involved, we are on no one's side, and we are certainly not allowed to give legal advice (nor are we qualified). We are there to interpret and to do absolutely nothing else. Obeying this basic rule will serve you well as a court interpreter, and it seems easy enough, but in practice it can be tricky.

One of the rules of thumb that we try to use is to not be alone with a person who needs interpreting services in a judicial setting. One usually needs at least three people for interpreting to take place (in our case, the non-English speaker, the non-Spanish speaker, and the interpreter) and no good usually comes out of having any sort of one-on-one conversation with the non-English speaker (LEP), so it must be avoided at all costs. The question is: how do you avoid talking to people if they walk up to you in the hallway? What if you see them in the parking lot afterwards and they have a question about their loved one's case that you are not allowed to answer? These situations can be tough, and there's no one right answer, but we usually use this approach:


  • Avoid being in public places where you could run into one of the parties alone. Ideally, walk with the lawyer/person you interpreted for. If their client comes up to the two of you, then you can certainly interpret.
  • Avoid leaving a hearing right after the LEP or his/her family so you don't put yourself into the situation of being asked a question about the case. Wait a few minutes inside the courtroom if need be. This might be awkward, but it does remove you from a potentially challenging situation.
  • If an LEP comes up to you without his/her attorney and asks a question, excuse yourself as quickly as possible. LEPs usually see you as their ally because you speak their language, but as a court interpreter, you are no one's ally and you must avoid all appearance of conflict of interest. One option is to briefly apologize about not being able to talk, and say that the code of ethics does not allow court interpreters to speak with LEPs on their own because we are neutral parties, and go looking for their attorney as quickly as possible. This is oftentimes quite disappointing for LEPs, but you must stick to the code of ethics. You don't ever want to get into a situation where an LEP says in court: "The interpreter told me...." It happens more often than you would think, so don't put yourself in the situation.
  • If necessary, go to the bathroom. This doesn't sound like a very elegant solution, and people might still want to talk to you inside the bathroom, but being inside a stall is usually a solid bet.
We'd love to hear other possible solutions/thoughts from fellow court interpreters! 

Quick Negotiation Tip: Final Offer

Happy Friday, dear readers! Today's quick negotiating tip comes, as always, from our own practice.

First things first: just like most people, we don't love to negotiate. We could certainly be better at it, and we are working on it. One thing we've learned recently that oftentimes it pays off to never stop negotiating, even if the other person says the famous words of: "This is my final offer." 

A few weeks ago, while negotiating an interpreting contract, the client, in a very friendly conversation, told us a number that she said was going to be her final offer. We've also learned not to say yes or no right away, but to ask the client if we can think about it, which has served us well as a negotiating tactic. We employed it this time, and the client said sure, that we could think about it for a day or two. Then we talked amongst ourselves: she said this was her final offer, right? Does that mean we do not have a choice but to accept it? We mulled this over a bit, and we came to the conclusion that of course we do not have an obligation to accept it. Everything is still negotiable until one party walks away, an outcome you (mostly) want to avoid (unless the terms don't work for you at all). So we decided to gamble (there is always some risk) and decided to counter one more time. We figured that our client could always reject our counteroffer, which would put us back at square one, but we decided we would cross that bridge in due time.

So we sent a friendly and upbeat email saying that we would love to work with them, and even though their offer wasn't the number we were looking for. We stated that we were willing to work with them and offered a more reasonable rate at X. We told them we looked forward to working with them, and lo and behold: they accepted and everyone is happy.

Lesson learned: a final offer is only a final offer if you accept it. It's usually worth negotiating to see what happens. A caveat: if you really need a particular project, this strategy might not worth be the risk. This is a classic risk/reward scenario, and it requires willingness to assume some risk. Happy negotiating! We would love to hear your negotiating tips if you are willing to share them with us and your colleagues.

Interpreting: Online FCICE Prep Course with Ernesto Nino-Murcia

It's that time again: the oral portion of the FCICE (Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam) is being offered again in mid-2017, and if you are thinking about taking it, you should definitely already be preparing for it. Our friends at MATI (Midwest Association of Interpreters and Translators) have helped eliminate geographical boundaries, which make it much easier and cost-effective to attend these preparation courses, as they are being offered via Facebook Live. Our esteemed colleague and Judy's fellow federally certified interpreter Ernesto Nino-Murcia is not only a fantastic interpreter, but also a great instructor, as we've seen for ourselves during his presentations at several conferences. We've heard nothing but outstanding feedback about the courses he's offering through MATI, and no, we are not getting paid to say this! Here's the link to sign up. Best of luck on the exam and keep us posted.

Here's to a healthy and happy 2017 -- and maybe to passing the FCICE!  



Upcoming Classes: University of Denver and University of California-San Diego

Another exciting year in the world of T&I is coming to an end, and we'd like to thank all our friends and readers for following this blog, for reading it, and for being part of our fantastic community.

Before we head to Berlin to celebrate the arrival of 2017, we wanted to give you some information about upcoming online classes that Judy will be teaching in the next few weeks. Her class at the University of Denver is brand-new: the 10-week online class titled "The Language Services Business for Translators and Interpreters" is part of UD's master's degree program. Please read on for more information:

1) University of California, San Diego-Extension (online): Introduction to Translation. This popular five-week course starts January 10, 2017. Spanish/English. No prerequisites. Tuition: $250.
2) University of California, San Diego-Extension (online): Introduction to Interpretation. Starting February 14, 2017, aspiring interpreters can get a solid overview of the profession to decide if it's for them. Spanish/English. No prerequisites. Tuition: $250.
3) University of Denver (online): The Language Services Business for Translators and Interpreters. This brand-new 10-week class will commence January 3, 2017. It's part of a master's degree program in Global Studies at the University of Denver, so there are some prerequisites. Language-neutral. Tuition: $628.

Have a happy and healthy start into 2017!

Risks and Rewards

As the end of the year approaches (time flies, doesn't it?) we wanted to discuss, very briefly, something that is near and dear to every entrepreneur's heart: risk. You can't be an entrepreneur and move your business forward without taking any risks, but oftentimes we see ourselves as linguists first and entrepreneurs second, and we've always proposed doing it the other way around. Now, what kind of risks are we talking about here? Allow us to elaborate.


  • New clients. While keeping the status quo is always easier and a lot less work, sometimes you might have to take a risk to get better clients if you don't already have them. This might be risky because you'd invest time looking for better clients than taking work from, say, lower-paying clients (the safe bet), but in order to get better clients, this is a risk you need to take. You won't get better clients (and you can define "better" in a variety of ways) just by wishing for them. There's always a downside to risk, but there's also a downside to not taking it.
  • Investments. At some point in your career you will have to make relatively small investments to further your business. We are in the lucky position that we have no hard labor costs, no offices, no expensive capital investments, etc., but there will be some things you need, such as specialized software or perhaps a public relations service to increase your company's profile. You don't always know ahead of time if these small or large expenses will work out for you, because unfortunately you don't have a crystal ball, but there's only one way to find out.
  • Networking. This may seem like a small issue, but oftentimes we hear of linguists who don't want to take time away from a busy work schedule to carve out time for networking and meeting new people. It might seem counterintuitive to give up paid work to head to an event that might or might not result in new clients, but continuous client acquisition is something you always have to do. The risk here is relatively low, and all you'd be potentially giving up is a few hours of work, but thanks to the nature of our work, you might be able to make up those hours after you return home.
ONe of our main points here is: if you don't like something in your business, you need to work on changing it. Complaining to your colleagues about it might be therapeutic in the short run, but it doesn't change your situation. So go ahead, take baby steps and take a small risk today. We hope it works out -- but not all of it will, which is just the nature of risk. Best of luck!

Job Posting: In-House at Epic (German)

Today's brief blog post is a job announcement that we received because the company in question, Epic, was asking if Judy would be interested in applying. As you might expect, we are not looking to transition from business owners to in-house translators, but there are many advantages to working in-house (been there, done that). First and foremost: a steady paycheck and benefits. Full disclosure: we have absolutely no ties to Epic (a leading healthcare software company), and we are posting this job announcement here for them as a courtesy in the hopes that readers of this blog will perhaps find it interesting. We'd love to know if you applied for the job and/or get it. Please keep us posted! These positions are located in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here are the details:

We're hiring a team of full-time in-house German translators at Epic (all will be based in Madison, WI). 


Here’s a little more about working at Epic and info on the German Translation openings

Should You Wear a Suit?

Happy Friday, dear colleagues! Today's quick post is meant for interpreters, especially court interpreters, and the answer to this very simple question should be: yes.

We put on suits for you. Photo by Ulf Buchholz.
Oftentimes in our profession we battle with the fact that we might not be perceived as true professionals by others, which is disheartening. However, we haven't always done ourselves a favor by not sticking to some basic rules of business, and one of them is professional dress. We've seen plenty of underdressed court interpreters, or interpreters who reveal too much, or interpreters who wear clothes that are too tight or simply inappropiate for professional situations. One of the ways we can ensure that outsides to the industry take our profession seriously is by dressing professionally--we have to advance the industry from the inside out. And dressing professionally is something that we can very easily do. You don't have to spend a fortune to look good, and just get a few suits that fit well and have "court" written all over them. In fact, you do want to get mistaken for an attorney, as that is usually a good sign (Judy gets addressed as "counsel" at least once a day).

So what say you, dear colleagues? How about we advocate for the professionalism and importance of our industry without having to say a word? Clothes might sound trite in the big scheme of things, but they are key and also very much contribute to first (and second, and third) impressions. So the next time you ask yourself the "Should I wear a suit question?" we have an answer for you: yes, put on that suit and go interpret and conquer. Save the comfy outfits for home and the tight and revealing choices for a night on the town.

We'd love to hear your comments.

Celebrating Each Other: Happy International Translation Day

Congratulations to all our lovely friends and colleagues around the world! September 30 is International Translation Day, and we celebrate St. Jerome, but of course that includes interpreters as well.

Instead of announcing some cool new conference or celebration, may we suggest we all do something very simple to strengthen our community and our profession? It goes like this:

1.) Find a colleague who happens to be in your city permanently or on business/vacation. Pick someone you have never met before or someone you don't know well.
2.) Drop him or her an e-mail (or call!) and extend an invitation. It can be for coffee, for dinner, for drinks--whatever works. 
3.) Meet up, enjoy, and network! You will have probably made a new friend, and if not, a new colleague. There's nothing quite like breaking bread, sharing a glass of wine, or just talking with someone you don't know well (yet), but who is in your same industry.

Judy has started with this and has invited a lovely colleague who's visiting from Argentina to stay at her house for a few days--it should be a lot of fun.

What do you think, dear colleagues? Will you join us in celebrating our profession and each other?

Let's Talk About Rates

Image created on www.canva.com
Our lovely colleague Jo Rourke of Silver Tongue Translations in the UK is hosting a live chat to discuss something that's very near and dear to all translators' hearts: rates

It's oftentimes not discussed enough, mainly due to restrictions on doing so (price fixing), but these are important conversations to be had, especially for newcomers to the profession. The live chat is completely free, but is limited to the first 100 linguists who sign up. It will also feature some give-aways! Here's the link. There's even a cool video! Please join Jo for this awesome-sounding event on Wednesday, October 5th at 8 p.m. London time, which is 12 pm Pacific and 3 pm Eastern here in the U.S. We just signed up ourselves.


Business Pitfalls: The Trouble With E-Mail

It's Labor Day here in the U.S., and while we are not working that much today, we wanted to leave you, dear readers, with a brief post about business practices.

For better or for worse, the vast majority of business communication most of us do is via e-mail, and while as translators we know that the written medium is a fantastic choice for many things, it also has myriad limitations. People could read things into it that you did not mean, the tone can come across differently than you intended it to (especially if you have a quirky writing style and the other person does not know you well), you can come across as too direct or not direct enough, etc. In spoken communication, especially when we are actually looking at each other, things are easier because non-verbal communication is an essential part of communication that makes it easy for humans to decipher the other's intent by evaluating tone, body language, pitch of voice, etc. We don't have that in written communication, and we need to be aware of this fact. By that we don't mean adding emoticons to business e-mails (we actually highly discourage you from doing so), but we mean that you should be very careful about what you put in writing.

We recently worked on a large legal case that included a government subpoena and some 1.1 million e-mails, and we bet that none of the people who wrote those e-mails ever expected anyone other than the recipient to read them--this in spite of the well-known fact that e-mail is never truly private. We think it's essential to keep in mind that you should never put anything in writing that you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the newspaper the next morning. This is a little internal test that we use quite frequently, and it works for us.  Here are a few other e-mail tips you might find useful:

  • Don't send e-mails when you are angry. It's fine to write them, but just don't hit the "send" button until you have let some time pass. Let the message sit for a few hours or a few days (as long as it's not urgent), and come back to it later. Keep in mind that you usually can't take back what you have written, so think before hitting "send."
  • Have someone give you a sanity check. For very important communication via e-mail, we look over each other's e-mail to make sure the tone is right. It's good to have someone double-check your messages, especially if you have any doubt about whether what you are writing is appropiate. Of course you shouldn't need to do this very frequently, but probably just a few times a year or so.
  • If you have any doubt about whether you should send the message or not, don't send it. Your instincts are probably good, so delete the message and start over.
  • Be brief. Judy has a tendency to write e-mails that are too long for everyone, so she's worked hard on changing that, and has also tried to learn from her lawyer husband who's fantastic at writing succinct messages. Read through the message again before sending it and see if you can strip out unnecessary sections. It's a sign of good writing, and your e-mails are also more likely to be read that way.
What about you, dear colleagues and readers? Is there anything you would like to add to this non-exhaustive list? We look forward to reading your comments. 
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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