Working Remotely

Ah, the joys of working for yourself: one can actually work from anywhere in the world as a translator. What seemed like a distant dream a few years ago when only one of us was a full-time entrepreneur (Judy was still working in-house) is now a reality: a month together, immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, working, spending quality time, and seeing some sights.  It's going to be wonderful to speak Spanish again all day -- and it's important to keep the language of our childhood alive. We've never been to South America, but that will change as of this Sunday: Judy and her hubby are flying to Buenos Aires to meet Dagy. We will actually take a well-deserved week off and explore the Argentine capital, of which we've heard great things. Our parents spent a month in Argentina last year and were fascinated by this vast and diverse country. We were delighted to accept an invitation to a colleague's house, Dolores Rojo Guiñazu, who lives outside of the capital. We haven't even met her yet, but she's a reader of this blog and a fan of our book, so she's actually picking us up and inviting us to her house for a traditional Argentine barbecue (asado). How wonderful is that? We truly have amazing colleagues all over the world, and we are grateful. 

Then it's on to Santiago de Chile, where we've rented an apartment and will run our companies (we have a company incorporated in Austria and one in Nevada) remotely. The landlord assures us that the wifi will work the minute we step into the apartment -- and he has a contractual obligation to make sure it happens. After all, it's a business trip. The reason we chose Chile is because Dagy is doing some reaseach for her dissertation -- yes, she's writing a dissertation on the side. She's focusing on the feminist discourse in Isabel Allende's work. We are both huge fans of her work, and even though Ms. Allende lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, Dagy wants to meet with some leading feminists and thinkers in Ms. Allende's homeland. 

So, dear colleagues in Chile: if you'd like to meet up in April in Santiago, we'd love to organize a coffee get-together. Just let us know. We will be in Chile until April 30.

What about you? Have you worked remotely? And how did it work out? Was traveling and working not a good combo for you? We'd love to hear about how you take advantage of the lifestyle that being self-employed allows. 

Do You Nap?

We'll be the first to admit it: we love naps. A lot. It runs in the family: our dad is able to nap literally anywhere, including on a sled in the Alps and in the car while someone else is driving. Our mom has been napping since we were infants -- much-needed naps when you have premature twins -- and she wakes up after her 15-minute power naps completely refreshed and ready to go. For many years, while working in-house, napping wasn't an option for Judy, even though she repeatedly suggested a nap room (her request was denied). Since we both started working on our business full-time, we are back to mid-afternoon naps a few times a week. We love them, and we think it makes us more productive. There's actually some solid research to show that there's some truth to that -- according to NASA, a 26-minute nap can boost performance by 34 per cent. Our naps tend to be a bit longer, but we do wake up ready to go. Many times, we just need a quick mental break from work. Alternatively, we go for a walk, but we find that napping works better to get us refreshed and relaxed. We've even heard about fellow court interpreters who head to their cars during breaks to take a quick nap. 

What about our colleagues? Do you nap? Do you feel that napping makes you more productive? We'd love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

Passing the State Court Interpreter Exam in Nevada and Beyond

Judy, who is a master-level Spanish court interpreter in Nevada, recently wrote the article below for those considering taking the notoriously difficult exam in Nevada or any other state that is part of the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. The article first appeared in the spring 2011 edition of e-NITA, the newsletter of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. Read on for myths and truths about the exam!

You may have heard the rumors, myths, and half-truths, such as: “It’s impossible to pass the oral exam for becoming a Supreme Court certified court interpreter in the state of Nevada,” or “No one ever passes the exam on the first try. It’s too hard, and the graders are biased.”
Judy on her way to court. 

Well, I have some good news for you: those things are untrue. I’d like to give you an overview of the process, what to expect, and some basic tips on how to prepare for the oral exam.
First of all: The exams, expertly administered by the Supreme Court of Nevada are fair, well-developed, and not impossible to pass. I did indeed pass the exams at the master level, which means that I scored above 80% in every section of the written and oral exams, so I am living proof that it is possible. Passing this exam is never accidental, and the graders are unbiased: they don’t know who you are, as you are identified only by a number.

A quick overview: There is a fairly straightforward English-language written exam (multiple choice) that immediately follows the orientation workshop. No specific preparation is required for the written portion, but fluency in English is a necessity to comprehend and answer the questions, which are similar (but much easier) than the verbal portion of the SAT (college admissions exam) test. For those who pass the written exam with a score of 80% or above, there is an oral exam, held in the fall, which is recorded and sent off for grading. The oral exam contains sections on simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation, and sight translation (in both language directions). You must score higher than 70% on each section of the oral exam in order to proceed to the next step, which includes a background check, proof of court observation hours, and an application for certification. For an exact breakdown of the process, please visit the Supreme Court of Nevada’s website.

What is true is that the pass rate for first-time test takers is 5%. However, I will go out on a limb here and say that the rate is this low not because the exam is that difficult, but because:
There is no barrier to entry. As opposed to other state-administered exams, there is no requirement to attend the two-day workshops and take the written exam the following day. The lack of prerequisites attracts many people who are not professional linguists, which helps explain the low pass rate.
Many applicants simply don’t prepare enough. As with any exam, you need to put in some hard work to master some specific test-taking skills, especially for the oral exam (traditionally offered in September). There are no shortcuts or magic pills: If you are not willing to put at least forty hours into practicing your interpreting skills, then I don’t think you have a realistic chance of passing the exam. Of course, the number of hours you need to practice will strongly depend on your individual skills, previous experience, and ability to learn and improve.
Many applicants don’t purchase the proper training materials. While it’s understandable that many test-takers would prefer not to spend a lot of money on the preparation phase, there’s really no way around buying the test-prep materials. My favorites are the ACEBO materials, published by court interpretation guru and Monterey Institute professor Holly Mikkelson. You can purchase the Spanish-language materials at ACEBO
Many applicants don’t go to court. You will be encouraged to do the 40 hours of court observation that are required to obtain certification before taking the oral exam. I wholeheartedly agree with this, since I learned invaluable information about processes, terminology, and how the court system works during my observation hours. Everyone at the Regional Justice Center was kind and helpful, including judges, attorneys and bailiffs. I asked a lot of questions and got well thought-out answers. I attended as many different legal procedures as I could, and was able to go to small claims court, drug court, traffic court, jury selections, jury trials, arraignments, etc.

Do you feel better now? You should. Every professional linguist has the opportunity to pass this exam if they are well-prepared. However, it is true that it is challenging – as it should be. Being a court interpreter is a very serious responsibility, and I think it’s wise that the Supreme Court only certifies the best of the best. After all, would you want to be a defendant in a criminal trial with a mediocre interpreter?

Here are a few things that you should know or do before starting the process:

Enjoy legal issues and terminology. If you don’t like legalese, then being a court interpreter is not for you. Guess what? You will be surrounded by legalese all day. I was already a very seasoned legal translator, so going into court interpreting was a natural extension for me.
Being bilingual is the absolute minimum requirement. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but be reminded that being completely, fully, fluently bilingual is only the minimum requirement, and being bilingual does not mean that you are an interpreter.
Are you already a professional linguist, either an interpreter in another field, or a translator? If not, then you’ve chosen one of the Holy Grails to enter the profession, and I don’t recommend it. There are always exceptions, but setting your sights on court interpreting is usually a discouraging way to try to enter the language profession.
Understand that interpreting is a highly specialized acquired skill. It involves many things, including excellent memory and the ability to quickly think on your feet, solve linguistic challenges in an instant, and take excellent notes, in addition to having a very deep knowledge of both languages and the law. It will take time to learn and build on these skills, and it’s a challenge.
Court interpreting is not for the faint of heart. You might have to interpret for defendants in criminal trials who have done things you’d rather not think about. And real court is not like TV – it’s serious, but also sad, never glorious, and there’s no neat wrap-up after 30 minutes. There are real lives at stake here, and if dealing with the gravity of court cases is something you don’t think you can handle, then you might be better off interpreting in less formal situations.
Remember that you will be running your own business if you do pass and become certified. I often get phone calls from laid-off professionals who think that becoming a court interpreter will guarantee them a full-time job. It does not: You will be a contractor to the courts, and there is no guarantee whatsoever on how many hours you will work. You will have to market yourself to obtain projects beyond the courts. If you are not prepared to maintain a website, acquire new business, attend workshops and seminars, do your own accounting and manage your time and resources, then court interpreting is not for you.

Last but not least, try the following tips to help you improve your skills for the oral exam:

Cramming doesn’t work. Improving your interpreting skills is a long-term process. Make a commitment to dedicate a certain amount of time to it every day (or every week). I practiced simultaneous interpreting with my CDs in the car while driving. Be sure to pay more attention to the road than to what you are saying, though! If this is too distracting for you, try another approach.
Get a digital voice recorder. I bought mine for less than $30 at Office Depot, and it truly is my new best friend. Many times, I would feel that I was doing quite poorly during an interpreting segment, but when I listened to it and graded myself, my performance was actually quite strong. The opposite was true, too – I would feel very strong, but the recorded result would be mediocre at best. You really don’t know how you did until you record yourself.
Get honest feedback. Meet with colleagues and ask for their honest feedback. You want to surround yourself with people who have the ability to evaluate your performance and who will tell you the truth, even if it’s not what you would like to hear.
Be patient. This was tough for me, but learning and improving your skills will test your patience. You can’t expect to remember new vocabulary immediately. Repetition and reinforcement are key.
Make vocabulary lists. Don’t know what a side-bar conference is? Look it up, and look up the translation, too. Build vocabulary lists and study them.
Read as much legal writing as you can – yes, even if it’s John Grisham. Actual court decisions and verdicts would be better, but try to surround yourself with legalese.
Be humble. If you don’t pass on the first try, that neither means that you are not a good interpreter (although it could) nor that the exam is flawed (it’s not). The beauty of this exam is that you can take it again the following year, and many people pass it on the second or third try. If your scores are not even in the ballpark of passing, then it’s time to take a hard look at your skills.

With that, I’d like to wish you the best of luck on your journey towards becoming a certified court interpreter in the state of Nevada or anywhere else in the nation.

Upcoming Conference: Portuguese Language Division in Washington D.C.

The following is an announcement that we received from Elena Langdon, the Portuguese Language Division's administrator, and we'd like to help her spread the word about the upcoming conference. This event sounds fantastic, and it's a chance to be in DC during cherry blossom season! This mid-year conference is part of the ATA's schedule of conferences. Please see below for more information and contact the conference organizers if you have any questions. 

Don’t wait until the last minute! Only three more days to register with early bird rates for the 14th Mid-Year Conference of the Portuguese Language Division of the American Translators Association.

Photo credit: National Cherry Blossom Festival
Why should you come to the PLD Mid-Year Conference (MYC) on April 8 and 9?

Reason 1: Where else can you attend 9 professional development sessions (12 hours!) all specific to Portuguese? See the program (here) for details. Language-specific conferences are also great for specializing, which can mean more money for you.
Reason 2:  Don’t just network: build relationships with your most important colleagues through our 15 hours of outings and dining. Experienced colleagues have told me that they get the vast majority of their work through colleague recommendations.
Reason 3: How else can you get a room in the DC area for $149 a night, $75 if you share? Take advantage of the trip to see DC! It is cherry blossom season!
Reason 4: You can attend the talk on how to do your best on the ATA certification exam Friday, then take the exam Sunday morning at the same hotel!

See our website  for full details. To register, go here.

From Gardening Blog to Translation Client

Most of our readers know that we believe in the power of the Web 2.0 for business purposes. At our workshops and presentations, we always encourage our colleagues to explore the endless opportunities of these new technologies and to use them to their advantage. Something we highly recommended is writing a blog. If this sounds like work (and it is, no doubt about that), think again: your blog doesn't necessarily have to be related to translating or interpreting (although we'd love to see more blogs in our field). Why? Because decision-makers in large, medium or small companies (= your potential clients) are people like us: they have hobbies.

Let’s say that a passionate gardener, who happens to be the director of marketing at a large international company, really enjoys reading X’s highly insightful blog about gardening. The director of marketing will, at some point, want to know who pens her favorite blog. She will look at the “About me” page and learn that the gardening expert is actually a translator. At that point, the marketing director might remember she had been meaning to look for a translator for an upcoming project. Translator X will be a natural choice for her, not because the marketing director has any idea of translator X’s expertise as a linguist, but because she knows her as a regular, highly professional blogger and she will assume that translator X is equally reliable as a linguist. 

It recently happened to Dagy, who blogs about the new German orthography. One of her loyal readers contacted her about a large translation project two days ago and confirmed her quote the same day. The reader of the blog assumed, rightly so, that Dagy is just as professional and knowledgeable a translator as she is a blogger. The same would definitely have been true if her blog weren't language-related, but, say, dedicated to scrap booking. Give it try! Blog about something you are passionate about, share your thoughts with the world and connect with like-minded people. Although of course it's never guaranteed -- and getting business probably shouldn't be your main motivation -- you might be surprised by the positive, if long-term effect on your business. We recently read Jost Zetzsche's interview in the ATA's Chronicle (conducted by Marcela Jenney), where he discusses his outstanding free biweekly newsletter on technology for translators.  He mentioned that folks hire him as a translator "because of the consistency of the newsletter, there is the message that I'm reliable and consistently produce results." If it works for Jost, it could work for you. 

Upcoming Workshop: Dallas, March 12

The professional development event season is in full swing. Both our associations have annual general meetings coming up, and as every year, we are delighted that associations from other states and countries have invites us to speak at their events.

If you'd like to attend one of Judy's "Entrepreneurial Linguist" workshops and will be in the Dallas area next week, you are in luck! MITA (Metroplex Interpreters and Translators Association) is hosting Judy on Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She will be giving two workshops, including the popular "No Pain, No Gain: Active Marketing to Direct Clients." The event is approved for four continuing education credits by the American Translators Association (for certified translators). The event will be at the North Lake College in Irving. For more information and to register for the event, please visit MITA's website.

Hope to see you in Dallas. 
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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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