Friday, December 25, 2009

Speak up!

Speak up! speak out! let me hear you! : !Hagase escuchar! :

(CHANGED to alza la voz! thanks to Atenea - see comments)

This one comes thanks to my colleagues: Ken Barger, who posed the question in regards to speak up, and Diana Meredith, who came up with this great rendition.

This is a phrase you often see on flyers and brochures in English that ask folks to take action, call a politician, etc.. Speak up and speak out seem to be used interchangeably. Verbally, in a rally setting, I could imagine someone calling out 'let me hear you!' and 'hagase escuchar' would also work for that I think.

The art here is from the movement artist Rini Templeton. Her family has made all of her images open for public use at

Thursday, December 10, 2009

instead of sending more troops, how about paying for trained interpreters?

I am disgusted that huge sums of money are being misspent to send poor young people from the United States with few other options at home to do far more harm than good in Afghanistan - but here is a new twist on how screwed up the whole enterprise is: they are using completely useless untrained interpreters, and clearly not training troops on how to use interpreters! This video (by the Guardian) of a US soldier trying to speak to an elder in Afghanistan through an interpreter is seriously damning. I couldn't find a way to embed the video, but it is well worth watching the subtitled short bit that starts around 3:30 minutes in.

Kudos to the Guardian for getting this subtitled and exposing the abysmal (worse than nothing) interpreting - but they completely misread the situation with their headline: "When the US 173rd Airborne's Charlie Company try to speak to a Pashtun elder, the gulf is so great even the interpreters have given up interpreting." No, in fact the problem is not a cultural gulf, the problem is utter lack of training and competency. This interpreter really never even begins to try to interpret. He clearly has no training in interpreting, and the soldier clearly has no idea what interpreting looks like or involves. What a royal mess. Yankees, come home now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

interpreting at the vigil

My apologies for the silence - it is the end of the semester and I'm swamped. Above is a video of me interpreting a couple of weeks ago at the SOA vigil - it starts about half way through Padre Alberto's presentation. There are videos of other Colombian speakers at the vigil here, here and here.

I was reminded again at the vigil how many of the folks that end up interpreting for the solidarity movement have little to no training in interpreting skills, so in the future I will try to post some basic interpreting tips and tricks on this blog, along with the terminology.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

vigil to close the School of the Americas

I am headed to the vigil this week! Proud to be part of the largest event against US Empire inside the belly of the beast.

Again we will be providing simultaneous interpretation of the entire outdoor and much of the indoor program into Spanish. We also hope this year to stream some of our interpretation online, and I'll let you know here if and where we get that set up. Wish us luck for getting that working!

If you can't make it this year you can support our work, and this powerful and important movement, by making a donation. We have a slim $1,000 budget for the interpreting, but even covering that is hard, so every bit helps - even $5 would be great, and really, it feels great to know you're a part of this. To do this go to the SOA Watch site and click the donate button on the upper right.

You can also support our team next weekend by doing last minute press release translations into Spanish from home (let me know if you are up for this).

And one last, fabulous, way you could help is with suggestions and clean up of our very old glossary of terms.

Monday, November 9, 2009

la canasta basica

el precio de la canasta basica: the cost of basic nutritional needs (for a family)

NOT the basic basket, or even food basket or shopping basket. Though it is certainly poetic, we just don't say that in English to mean this technical financial thing as it is widely used in Spanish - and given how few people in the North even shop with a basket I doubt people will be able to make that leap and figure it out (though these days I'm proud to say nearly everyone seems to take their own bag in Vancouver). The tricky thing about this term is though it's widely used in Spanish just to refer to the weekly or monthly cost of food, in some countries and instances it technically means the cost of all essential goods (in Mexican government documents for example this includes the cost of condoms), AND services (like electricity). I suppose this could be rendered as just the cost of meeting basic needs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

people before profit

people before profit: la vida antes del lucro

This is my own invention. I got it from going *really* sideways - or what's it called when you go to a C language? (going sidways is when you look for a similar word in you source language before going to the target) In French this slogan is la vie avant le profit, as I discovered from the video below, by PASC (which has some crazy dark war humor at the end of it). La vida antes del lucro sounds better to me than la gente, and certainly than ganancias. But this is the only place I've found it used in Spanish. What have other folks been using?

Sunday, November 1, 2009


so-called : mal llamado

Just to clarify last week's post, I am not suggesting that you dramatically change the tenor of a speakers words by adding so-called to therm false positives without clearing that with them. I was assuming an informal movement interpreting scenario where you could either discuss this term beforehand with the speaker or even when it comes up ask, 'se puede decir mal llamado?'. I am a trained court interpreter and much more of a stickler about not adding contextual clues than most doing more community style interpreting - but this particular term of falsos positivos really gets my goat! By using the term as-is we normalize it, letting it do its work as a term - its work against what the believe in: the very dignity of life itself.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

falsos positivos 2

I've posted about this term before, but want to call to your attention that there is a similar tragedy, and growing scandal, in India - where there is a different euphemism for them: 'encounter deaths'. In fact, some police in India are proud to be known as 'encounter specialists'! Similarly, these are usually poor and marginalized folks who are summarily executed and then dressed up to make it look like they died in cross fighting. Ranvir is only one of many in India, though his story made more news because he was not as poor as most. His story is here. Should we collude with this activity by propagating the euphemism? Or should we just render this term as summary executions or extrajudicial killing? If you must say false positives because it's the term people know and use, I would suggest adding so-called, as in "so-called false positives".

Saturday, October 17, 2009

medical interpreters in action

My friend Jill made this great short video about medical interpreters. Can't figure out how to embed it, but it's 15 minutes long and fun to watch! If you've never seen us in action, or even if you do this every day, check it out.

Jill also worked on the film Sweet Crude, which is smart, fabulous, and very moving. Watch it if it comes to your town.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


cheapened: abaratado
as in, the Nobel peace prize.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

enslaved people

enslaved people: gente esclavizada

Props to my compa Michael Rosen, who not only gives fantastic salsa classes, but even in a short intro includes a bit on how merengue is rooted in slavery, and uses this term - which I honestly had never heard, or at least paid attention to, before. Need I point out why this is so much better than "slave"?

Michael hilariously includes this on his promo materials:
WARNING: Classes may cause temporary increases in heart rate, extreme enjoyment and bouts of laughter. Possible long-term effects may include: addiction (to Cuban Salsa), increased sense of rhythm, grounding, increased body comfort and confidence, higher fitness levels, increased happiness and presence, increased sexual activity and growth of friendships.
EveryBODY (shape, age, colour, sexuality...) Welcome!!!

If you're in Vancouver, check out his class schedule here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

gente vs. pueblo

gente = people vs pueblo = THE people

thought of it from seeing this comment at

"This is what we have to confront. These are the people our political figures consult with: military officers, judges and lawyers, business people, Catholic Church hierarchy. And they supported the coup. They say they have all the right “gente” supporting them. We have the “pueblo” supporting the return of Zelaya."

I've personally given up on calling the State department. They are basically supporting the Honduran coup. In speeches Hilary Clinton equates the attackers with the attacked. She blames Zelaya. The US has not frozen assets, cut off trade, or even stopped all aid! I am disgusted. But I continue to have great faith in el pueblo.

My good friend Andres is reporting from inside the Brazilian embassy. Please hold him, and all of the Hondurans in struggle, in your hearts. Let us be in the struggle together.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

accumulation by dispossession

accumulation by dispossession: acumulación por desposesión

What's up with the US wanting to put in seven new military bases in Colombia when Uribe says the FARC are nearly defeated, and claim, ahem, that drug trafficking is down? In this article Zibechi lays it out as part of a larger dynamic of accumulation by dispossession.

Check out the English wiki definition of this term coined by David Harvey, the most well-known living geographer.

Monday, September 7, 2009


How's that for jargon? New to me. It seems to mean “all types of interlingual transmission, such as translation, interpreting, and subtitling.”

Check out the journal Studies in Translatology

See also the Journal of Translation studies

Friday, August 28, 2009

cinturon de miseria

Cinturon de miseria - slum belt

This refers to the ring of slums around many (most?) cities in Latin America. Slum being rendered by Sebastian in the article I cited last week as ciudades misera was what helped me get this one. I don't like the term in either English or Spanish, as it seems to have a derogatory connotation. I prefer comunidades marginales or asentiamientos informales or something else more respectful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the commons, commonism

the commons: el en-común
commonism: el en-comunismo

One for the lefty theory geeks. Props to my compa Sebastian (te fuiste!), who (with a collective of course) translated this article in turbulence that lays it all out. bzzzz.

To quote the author Nick Dyer-Witheford (in translation):

“Lo ‘en-común’ es una expresión que resume muchas de las aspiraciones del movimiento de movimientos. Es un término muy usado quizás porque ofrece una manera de hablar sobre la propiedad colectiva sin invocar una mala historia –es decir, evitando evocar el comunismo, convencionalmente entendido como la combinación de una economía de mando centralizado y un estado represivo–, para inmediatamente encontrarle una explicación convincente. Aunque habrá quienes no estén de acuerdo, creo que esta discusión es válida; es importante diferenciar nuestros objetivos y nuestros métodos de los de catástrofes pasadas, retomando las discusión de una sociedad más allá del capitalismo.

La primera referencia a lo ‘en-común’ corresponde a las tierras de uso colectivo cercadas por el capitalismo en un proceso de acumulación primitiva que va desde la edad media hasta el presente. Aún hoy, las tierras de cultivo comunes siguen siendo el punto principal de conflicto en muchos lugares. Pero hoy lo en-común también nombra la posibilidad de propiedad colectiva, y no privada, en otros terrenos: lo ecológico en-común (el agua, la atmósfera, la pesca y los bosques); lo social en-común (la previsión pública con respecto al bienestar, la salud, la educación, etc.); lo en-común en red (el acceso a los medios de comunicación).”

keep reading

Thursday, August 13, 2009

vereda (again)

vereda (Col): dispersed rural settlement

In my previous post I argued for rendering it as township - which led to some interesting conversation in the comments. This version is higher register, and stinks for fast simultaneous, but seems more accurate. Maybe for simul you could say this the first time, followed by “something like a U.S. township”, and from then on use township.

Friday, August 7, 2009


rancho: shack - generally not ranch!!

While on the topic, here is another dangerous false cognate. Ranch in English implies something totally different, with lots of land, and Bush chopping wood, or Reagan on his horse. Certainly not an informal self-made simple dwelling, which in my experience is what is generally meant, in a variety of Latin American countries. I don't love the word shack, since it can have negative connotations and implies a more ramshackle dwelling that rancho necessarily does. Yet the reclaiming of the term being done by shack/ slum dwellers international makes me more comfortable with it. I also haven't come up with anything better. Cabin is certainly no good as now it tends to imply something more like a second home. 'Informal housing' is a much higher register. Humble home sounds cutesy.

Wiki defines a particular way of building ranchos in the southern cone

But in my experience it could be any type of building. Could be just cardboard and tin. Could be stone walls. Could be adobe. Could even be cement and wood, but very simple, humble. An english ranch would be a finca.

Kudos to Latin Pulse for subtitling the below episode of Contravia, some of the only (and very brave) independent journalism in Colombia. I include it here with the excuse that the word rancho comes up several times, as folks are showing us their homes that have been bombed. Could you move back into your home and rebuild it (yourself) if it had been bombed? Or would it be too freaky? Could you ever feel safe there again?

(ojo: the subtitles render cabildo as town council, but it's indigenous council (in the US the term would be tribal council), which here changes the story a bit)

Monday, August 3, 2009

False cognates

False cognates are always dangerous, but there are some that can be particularly bad news for movement interpreters:

comprometido - certainly not compromised! it's committed

es preciso - not precise! At least not as generally used in Colombia, where it tends to mean appropriate, timely, etc, depending on the context.

integral - please, spare me from integral! Ok, it kind of means the same thing, kind of, but we just don't use it in English and it sounds bizarre. We usually say comprehensive.

Can you think of others that tend to come up in movement settings?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


piquetero: piquetero (member of the Argentinian unemployed workers movement)

Hoy el wiki lo define asi: Los piqueteros son activistas, que pertenecen al movimiento social iniciado por trabajadores desocupados en la Argentina a mediados de la década del '90, poco antes de que la crisis económica provocada por la desindustrialización y reducción de las exportaciones argentinas estallara en 1998, dando lugar a un período de grave recesión que llevaría al gobierno de Fernando de la Rúa a un fin anticipado.

Nacidos como una agrupación ad hoc formada para canalizar la protesta contra los despidos de trabajadores en la empresa del Estado Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF, luego absorbida en el conglomerado internacional Repsol YPF) en la provincia argentina de Neuquén, los cortes de ruta ("piquetes") realizados como medio de protesta dieron su nombre a los numerosos movimientos de desempleados que se han institucionalizado progresivamente, formando la contrapartida obrera a los cacerolazos empleados por la clase media-alta para expresar su descontento con la acción gubernamental.

Y el wiki en ingles dice:

A piquetero is a member of a political faction whose primary modus operandi is based in the piquete. The piquete is an action by which a group of people blocks a road or street with the purpose of demonstrating and calling attention over a particular issue or demand. The trend was initiated in Argentina in the mid-1990's, during the Administration of President Carlos Menem, soon becoming a frequent form of protest in other parts of the country. Seventy percent of the piqueteros are women [1].

The word piquetero is a neologism in the Spanish of Argentina. It comes from piquete (in English, "picket"), that is, a standing blockade and/or demonstration of protest in a significant spot.


As I've argued before, it can be useful and interesting to compare the two versions of wikipedia. I actually think that picket is a false cognate here in English. Most pickets in North America do not block streets, which is the whole point of a piquete. I would use barricade or road block. I do agree that it's worth importing piquetero into English as a neologism, but I do think that for most audiences the first time you use it you need to describe it, as above.

Ojo que a piquete in Argentina is not only or necessarily done by piqueteros, but can be done by students, etc. To make things more confusing, as I understand it piqueteros also do marches and other forms of protest that aren't always just road blocks.

Monday, July 20, 2009

bloqueo/ barricada

blockade - bloqueo (In Mexico sometimes tope de carretera - can also be piquete in Argentina - see note below)

Barricade; road block - barricada

Any other local terms for these out there? What do they use in Bolivia for example?

(see and add to great comments for more)

So Hondurans are not only on strike to bring down the coup, but they've ramped it up with a blockade of Tegucigalpa. It's crazy inspiring. Check out the great coverage by narconews here and here. As Al Giordiano points out, there are only four routes in and out of Tegucigalpa.

According to today's wikipedia, A blockade is an effort to cut off the communications of a particular area by force. It is distinct from a siegein that a blockade is usually directed at an entire country or region, rather than a fortress or city. Also, a blockade historically took place at sea, with the blockading power seeking to cut off all maritime transport from and to the blockaded country. Stopping all land transport to and from an area may also be considered a blockade. Blockades are often partial, with the object of denying the other side its major form of communication or access to key resources.

And wiki says that A barricade is any object or structure that creates a barrier or obstacle to control, block passage or force the flow of traffic in the desired direction. Adopted as a military term, a barricade denotes any improvised field fortification, most notably on the city streets during urban warfare.

Barricades featured heavily in the various European revolutions of the late 18th to early 20th centuries. The very first barricades in the streets of Paris, a feature of the French Revolution and urban rebellions ever since, went up on the Day of the Barricades, 12 May 1588, when an organized rebellion of Parisians forced Henri III from Paris, leaving it in the hands of the Catholic League. Wagons, timbers and hogsheads (barriques) were chained together to impede the movements of Swiss Guards and other forces loyal to the king. ... A major aim of Haussmann's renovation of Paris under Napoléon III was to eliminate the potential of citizens to build barricades by widening streets into avenues too wide for barricades to block. Such terms as "go to the barricades" or "standing at the barricades" are used in various languages, especially in rousing songs of various radical movements, as metaphors for starting and participating in a revolution or civil war, even when no physical barricades are used.

the English wiki entry says nothing about the recent use of barricades in Oaxaca, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru or, now, Honduras. Anyone want to work on that?

La version del wiki en español tampoco, pues dice

Una barricada es un parapeto improvisado que se hace con barricas, carruajes volcados, palos, piedras, etc. Sirve para estorbar el paso al enemigo y es de más uso en las revueltas populares que en el arte militar. Despues habla de su uso en Francia y España.

Thanks to my friend Jill for the Mexico terminology. If you haven't seen her movie Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad - do! It has great footage of the barricades in Oaxaca, and check out the fab “son de la barricada” in the soundrack.

Oh, and piquete - well, it's complicated because it refers to both a tactic and a particular movement. I'll make it a separate entry, soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Unlike translation, interpretation is a performance art. You have to practice your scales - but then when you're on, it's not about mere replication. Like performing music, it helps to have magic. It also helps to have had sleep, to not be stressed out, to have good working conditions, to not be interpreting for hours on end ... it's harder for the magic to flow when you're tight! Sadly, social movement interpreting rarely makes space for this kind of magic. Lets change that!

Monday, July 6, 2009

la tierra es de quien la trabaja

I am such a geek that sometimes while watching subtitled movies I write down translations I either like or don't. I recently sat through all 4 hours of the movie Che and wrote down a bunch.

por las nubes - through the roof (in reference to mortalidad infantil)
desmontar - clear the land
concéntrate - stay focused
romper monte - bushwhack (not what they used in the movie, but I would)
que te vaya bien - have a good trip?! (what they used in the movie, bit bizarre)
pendejo - moron (well, I've heard many versions, but in some instances this would be just right)
mocoso - snot faced kid
contrareplica - rebuttal
dale candela - torch it
temerario - reckless
proclamar - cry (as in, patria o muerte)
cual es la postura de la organizacion - where does the org stand
su puño y letra - his hand and word ?! (what they used, sounds awful - his words in his handwriting I'd say)
la tierra es de quien la trabaja - the owner of the land is the one who works it (what they said, and wow does it sound awful. how about the land belongs to those who work it!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

"white" man/woman

Guate - canche
Panama - fulo/fula

CR - macho (macha para mujeres?!)

Nica/El Salvador - chele/ chele
Mexico - güero/güera

Colombia - mono/ mona

I am looking for anything written about how whiteness works in Latin America and would very much appreciate references. What strikes me is that rather than being unmarked/invisible as it is in North America, it is instead hypervisible and regularly remarked upon. Surely folks must have written about this? I haven't had much luck finding it, other than one article about the use of whitening creams in Mexico. Of course white privilege works differently in Latin America and I'm especially interested in anything written about that. Not only do 'monas' like me get this privilege, but lighter skinned mestizos do too - though this seems rarely talked about or acknowledged.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


proceso: organizing process, organizing project

Often proceso just gets rendered literally, as process, as it is in the video above by the Nasa First Nation of Colombia. Process can mean all sorts of things in English, but I think that a community organizing process is one of the last things that will come to the minds of English speakers who do not speak Spanish when they hear this term. To clarify I strongly suggest adding the word organizing. In English we would normally say organizing project, not process. I like importing process actually, because it implies that organizing is forever ongoing, not a one shot deal, but for it to make sense in English, again, I think we need to add the word organizing. Thoughts on this one?

Monday, June 15, 2009

botín de guerra

botín de guerra: war trophy

"El cuerpo de la mujer no es botín de guerra" is a slogan of the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres in Colombia. This photo is from their mobilization in Nov. 07 where they shut down the border between Colombia and Ecuador to highlight how many women are being forced to flee their homes and cross that border, and how war particularly affects women.

When I first heard this slogan the term that came to me in the moment was war booty, which not only sounds like pirates, but makes you think of women's butts! Clearly one to avoid. So my next thought was spoils of war, but that is a much higher register in English and sounds ridiculous in a chant. Women's bodies are not war trophies, now that seems to do it.

Monday, June 8, 2009


mochacabezas: decapitators

It's a higher register in English but I can't think of another way of putting it, other than maybe the head slicers, which I don't think would be understood. I got the term from this fantastic investigative article by Teo Ballvé in the Nation, which exposes how through USAID the US government is giving 'drug war' money to brutal paramilitary drug traffickers for growing oil palm for agrofuel, on land they've stolen from Afro-Colombian peasants. (the article isn't gruesome reading, despite the term - though certainly it's plenty disturbing to find yet another way in which US "aid" to Latin America is deeply screwed up).

It's crazy that Obama has just sent a proposal to Congress that keeps the same very high levels of military aid going to the Colombian army, which works closely with these "palm growers". Please take a minute to send this quick click action email to Obama about it.

(note, photo is the one that goes with article and is by paul hackett - of palm workers, not decapitators)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

tejido social

tejido social: social fabric

Though I prefer the more poetic weave, it sounds odd in English. We can certainly talk about weaving together our lives and struggles though. The point of state terror is often to shred the social fabric. Well, actually in English we usually talk about breaking the fabric. You would think it would be rip, or, as is often the case, shred or decimate. En español creo que tambien se suele hablar de romper el tejido, no? Aun que aca se habla de su ruptura.

Well, may we all use our gifts and talents to weave a tighter and wider fabric that holds us all, norte y sur.

(image by Will Lion)

Monday, May 25, 2009

se ve, se siente, el pueblo esta presente

se ve, se siente, X esta presente (often los estudiantes, las mujeres, etc): You can see it, You can feel it, We the X are here.

Often said to stand out as a block in a protest. As in, the students section when the minga marched in to bogota last November was shouting this. This photo is also from the minga - but these guys weren't shouting ambientalistas presentes. maybe because there weren't so many of them y no se sentia tanto! The closest cultural equivalent for this phrase would be something like 'students are here. loud and proud', but I think more literal is more appropriate here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

falsos positivos

falsos positivos: false positives/ extrajudicial killing

Extrajudicial Killing In Colombia from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

The above is great solidarity video work and incredibly brave and powerful testimony and video footage by Martha, the daughter of José, a campesino who was killed by the Colombian army, who then concocted a scenario to present him as a guerilla - ie, a "false positive" - a hideous euphemism if ever there was one. But because the term is widely used though to describe this scandal I would use the term, and then add the more descriptive extrajudicial execution to it.

The trial against a soldier indicted in this case began ten days ago. I am horrified and outraged to report that Martha's uncle--a key witness in the case--was shot in the head on Sunday in an apparent attempt to disrupt the trial and scare the other witnesses, including Martha. He is in intensive care awaiting neurosurgery.

MARTHA IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER. She and her family need your support. They simply ask for protection and justice in the cases of Martha's father and uncle. Please take one minute to send a letter to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, asking him to stand up for justice in this case.

You can also send Martha and her family a message of support, in English or Spanish. They are incredibly brave and these letters mean a lot to them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

ni perdon, ni olvido!

ni perdon, ni olvido! : never forgive! never forget!

Yes, the exclamation marks are necessary since this is usually shouted with great passion at rallies - strangely there are two in English, and the cadence is different.

A nod to Andy Klatt for this one. Kathy Ogle suggested "never pardon, never forget", because it is often used in the context of amnesty laws - but I think the alliteration is useful for catching the flavor of it.

In Colombia it's usually said ni perdon, ni olvido - but in this video from Argentina the order is reversed. I would still render this as above in English, since this is how we're used to hearing it.

(warning, disturbing testimony and images in this video)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

a great read

This one not only explains the differences between different legal systems, but has handouts (in the appendixes) that can be used by attorneys to explain these differences to their clients. I wish I had the resources to give this as a gift to each and every public defender.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

hospitals are breaking the law

fantastic super short spot highlighting the need for medical interps

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

to trouble (a concept)

to trouble (a concept): problematizar

As in, with my research I am trying to trouble how we do solidarity, in particular around the colonial patterns we fall in to (for more on this see my other blog). Of course the cognate, problematize, also exists in English. I've always thought this just meant turning something into a problem, but the wikipedia entry is intruiguing:

To problematize (or problematise) is to propose problems.

Problematizing (or problematising) a term, writing, opinion, ideology, identity, or person is to consider the concrete or existential elements of those involved as challenges (problems) that invite the people involved to transform those situations. (Freire (1976) cited in Crotty (1998), p. 155-156)

Problematization (or problematisation) is a critical and pedagogical dialogue or process and may be considered demythicisation. Rather than taking the common knowledge (myth) of a situation for granted, problematization poses that knowledge as a problem, allowing new viewpoints, consciousness, reflection, hope, and action to emerge. (ibid)

What may make problematization different from other forms of criticism is its target, the context and details, rather than the pro or con of an argument. More importantly, this criticism does not take place within the original context or argument, but draws back from it, re-evaluates it, leading to action which changes the situation. Rather than accepting the situation, one emerges from it, abandoning a focalised viewpoint. (ibid)

To problematize a statement, for example, one asks simple questions:

  • Who is making this statement?
  • Who is s/he making it for?
  • Why is this statement being made here, now?
  • Whom does this statement benefit?
  • Whom does it harm?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

educating attorneys and others on how to use interpreters well

Below is the text from a hand out that I prepared years ago for educating pro bono attorneys in Seattle. Feel free to use all of part of it. Many of the suggestions are useful for folks other than attorneys. Changes/suggestions welcome. If you use it please do cite me and this site. (photo from here)

Tips on Communicating through Interpreters for Legal Cases

Hiring the interpreter

It is cheaper and more reliable to hire directly than to go through an agency. To find an interpreter:

King County Superior Court Interpreters Office can give referrals: (206) 296-9358

Directory of all court certified interpreters:

The federal courts certify Spanish, Haitian Creole and Navajo interpreters only. Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts certifies for Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Korean, and Lao.

If the courts do not certify interpreters in the language that you need, or if no certified interpreter is available, look for other levels of certification. Your next best bet in Washington State is medical then social service. If an interpreter tells you that they are “certified” check at what level. Though translation (written) is a different art, it is a good sign if an interpreter is accredited by the American Translators Association. Their directory is at Some translators work in several languages so make sure the accreditation is for the appropriate language combination.

Many less common languages are not certified and never will be. If you must use a non-court certified interpreter inquire as to their education and language skills.

The following questions are suggested before contracting an uncertified interpreter:

  1. When and how did you learn English and ___?
  2. What is your level of formal schooling?
  3. Do you have any training as an interpreter?
  4. What experience do you have as an interpreter? (When and where have you interpreted?)
  5. Please define a few English legal terms that will be used in this case, such as negligence, respondent, domestic violence, abuser, victim, etc. What are the translations for these terms? (you probably won’t know the translation but can judge if they hum and haw before giving it)

It is helpful to ask ALL interpreters the following questions on the phone before hiring them:

  1. “Do you know any of the parties or witnesses?” Some language communities are so small that it may be hard to find an interpreter who does not know the client, in which case you should ask, “Are you a potential witness in this case?”
  2. “Have you ever interpreted before for either of the parties?” (You don’t really want as an interpreter for a victim someone she saw interpret for the abuser last week in court, for example).
  3. Do you think there might be any conflict of interest or reason why you should not interpret for this case? There may be a conflict within a language group that determines the choice of an interpreter; for example in the Seattle area there is a division between Pentecostal and Jewish Ukrainians. An Eritrean interpreter who speaks Tigrinia as a first language may be preferable to an Ethiopian interpreter who speaks Tigrinia as well as Amharic. You can’t possibly know all of these politics so simply ask the interpreter before hand.

Gender. In hiring know that the gender of the interpreter may make a difference in the comfort of the client. A woman interpreter is generally preferable for a victim of domestic violence.

Using a family member or friend, even an acquaintance, should be avoided at all costs, even if they happen to be professional interpreters. It inevitably skews what the client will say to you, how they say it, what will be interpreted and in what fashion. It also may have a negative impact on the relationship between the client and the person serving as the interpreter in the future. When the interpreter relationship is not formalized and the interpreter is not an agent of the attorney the interpreter could be subpoenaed and breach atty./client privilege. This is unlikely, but something to consider.

Book well ahead. Do not expect an interpreter to be available on a day's notice. Good interpreters are much in demand.

Payment. Establish the payment rate clearly and in advance. Ask the interpreter what their rates are. Rates vary widely depending upon language. It is always cheaper to go directly to an interpreter, since agencies keep up to 50% of their fees. Interpreters charge by the hour. Many have a 2 hour (or more) minimum charge and a 48 hour cancellation policy. Some interpreters also charge for travel time, generally at a lower rate. Some interpreters will charge mileage or parking.

Volunteers and reduced fees. If you are doing pro bono work yourself for a worthwhile cause some interpreters, when you describe the project, may consider reducing their fees or donating their services, but do not expect this. Expect the same ethics and standards from volunteers – do not use an unqualified interpreter simply because they are free! It can be far more expensive in the long run when they misinterpret information.

After hiring and before the appointment:

Give the interpreter background information and tell them what to expect. Establish the context and the nature of the visit for the interpreter. For example, "This will be my initial visit with Juana to prepare her self-petition. This is a process whereby she can ask for legal immigrant status on the basis of being married to an abusive citizen or resident who refuses to petition for her. She and I will be going over the history of her abuse, which includes things like rape and abuse of the children.” If you are going to review documents send them to the interpreter before hand, or at least have the interpreter come early to review them. Alert the interpreter to any unusual vocabulary that may come up. Give an estimated end time for the visit. Understand that the interpreter may book another appointment after yours, so confirm time constraints on the day of the visit.

If they are not a certified court interpreter send them more background material to prepare with (such as the self-petition explanation handouts) and remind them to tell you if they don't understand terms you use or the terms aren't easily translated. Interpreters who are not court certified should also be sent a copy of the code of ethics for legal interpreters beforehand, copy attached.

The day of the appointment

Introduce yourself to both your client and the interpreter.

Confirm language. Ask the interpreter to speak briefly to the client and confirm that they can understand each other, and do not have problems due to accent or dialect. It is increasingly common in the U.S. to have Latin Americans who speak an indigenous language as their first language and Spanish as their second language, so if you have any suspicion that this might be the case ask your client, through the interpreter obviously, if they are fully comfortable speaking in Spanish.

Confidentiality. The first thing that you say to the client through the interpreter, after introductions and hellos, should be a brief reassurance that the conversation is entirely confidential and that the interpreter is also bound to uphold the confidentiality of the conversation.

Common mistakes to avoid

Speaking to the interpreter. Speak directly to the client, never use the third person “tell her that …”. Also tell your client to speak directly to you, and not to the interpreter. When you are speaking look at your client, and make sure that she too is looking at you when she speaks, rather than at the interpreter. If you do need to speak to the interpreter make it clear that’s who you are speaking to, for example don’t ask “Are you available Monday?” ask “Is the interpreter available on Monday?” Note that the interpreter should still be interpreting this question so that your client can understand what you are saying.

Role and confidentiality. Explain your role to the client, and at the same time review the role of interpreter. Make it clear that the interpreter is neutral, can’t talk to them or befriend them, but that they can expect that the interpreter will interpret everything and will never repeat anything said outside of the room.

Speed and volume. Do not speak any more loudly that you normally would. You do not need to speak super slowly or pause between words. If you tend to speak very fast you might slow down a tad bit, but generally you should be able to speak in a normal voice and rhythm. Take care not to mumble. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations.

When to pause. If using simultaneous interpretation pause, at normal syntactical breaks, for the interpreter to catch up. If using consecutive interpretation don’t break it up into gibbles, be sure not to break until a complete thought or phrase has been expressed, but be aware of the limits of the interpreter’s memory. Professional interpreters will have good note taking and memory skills and be able to interpret much longer phrases. They should also be comfortable telling a speaker when to stop or continue. Be sure to not cut the fragments so short that they are meaningless, but not to make them so long that the interpreter may miss some of the content in the rendition. If your client says a particularly long statement, and you are working with an inexperienced interpreter who has not cut her off or taken good notes, know that some of the content may have been lost. Be aware that it can be hard to interrupt speakers in the middle of emotional testimony, or to ask them to repeat disturbing statements, and this is one of the many reasons it is crucial to have a qualified interpreter who can handle long statements.

Cultural concepts. If the client is expressing a culturally embedded concept which you do not understand do not expect the interpreter to be a cultural expert. They are not sociologists, and may well come from a very different background that the client (for example, a rich urban Mexican woman may have little in common with an indigenous rural Mexican woman). Interpreters come with their own world views and who knows, their personal understanding of a cultural issue may not be accepted in their own cultural group. It is always best to ask cultural questions like this directly to the client, “How do you do this, what does this mean to you, etc.”. Ideally if you are expressing a concept which the interpreter thinks may not transfer culturally she will let you know that, by saying something like, “The interpreter is not sure that the concept of a jury is being understood.” I recommend the cultural profiles of major immigrant groups at They are written for doctors but have a lot of pertinent information about common misunderstandings. On the culture note please avoid the use of sports metaphors and idioms in general, such as out of the frying pan and in to the fire. These generally don’t transfer well.

Bilingual clients and attorneys. Beware, if the client speaks some English they may think that they are understanding what you are saying in English when in fact they don’t. Imagine if you were living in a foreign country where you spoke some basic Farsi, say, even if you had been there for years, would you really be able to conduct legal business in that language? If the attorney speaks some Farsi, say, it’s great to use it for introductions, but unless the attorney has experience in and is comfortable with legal terminology in that language it is safest to use an interpreter.

Interruptions. Please do not speak before the interpreter has finished. The notes she takes are very cryptic and only serve to guide her memory for the next few moments. If you throw her off track she will probably not be able to reconstruct what your client said and that information will be lost, since we know that clients never repeat themselves exactly. Please wait until she has finished interpreting before responding, even if you think that the information she is interpreting from your client is irrelevant. There may be some nugget of information there that is useful, and it will help keep the interpreter centered and focused if you do not interrupt her. If your client is rambling a lot please wait until the interpreter is done and then ask your client to please give short direct answers to your questions only. If your client is interrupting the interpreter please give them the same instruction through the interpreter.

Register. Early on ask your client what their educational level is and what experience they have with the legal system so that you can keep the literacy level of your client in mind. If you are speaking in legalese in English the interpreter must render it in legalese in the target language. Some immigrant groups are more likely to have a much lower level of education. Don’t assume this though, the best thing to do is simply ask them how many years of schooling they’ve had. If they say 3 that does not generally mean 3 years of higher education, it may well mean that they’ve only been through the third grade. If they say a very low number like that you might ask them if they are comfortable reading and writing in their own language. But don’t automatically dumb it down just because they are an immigrant, they may in fact be a PhD.

Legal concepts. Many immigrants come from vastly different legal systems, and may not understand basic legal concepts here. I highly recommend an outstanding book that outlines the common misunderstandings about the criminal courts held by several major immigrant groups and what basic explanations are helpful for each group. The book is Immigrants in Courts by Joanne Moore, published by the University of Washington Press. The University of Washington bookstore will mail it to you in the U.S. with no shipping charge, they are at 1-800-335-READ,

Breaks. The interpreter may be sitting still, but an extraordinary number of her cognitive wheels are spinning. Interpreter fatigue can have a great effect on the quality of interpretation services, so please offer frequent breaks, water, and do not schedule overly long appointments. In an ideal world interpreters work in teams and alternate every 20 minutes. Realistically you might provide short breaks every hour and not expect an interpreter to work for more than 2 and a half hours steadily.

Comments. Please don’t ask the interpreter to comment on the content of the meeting or the case, as this is against our code of ethics. Instead when the appointment is over is complete, don't be afraid to provide constructive feedback to the interpreter and ask her if she has any tips for you. We can always improve!

Interpreter scenarios to watch out for and how to respond

If communication seems vague and unclear, and your client’s answers don’t correspond to your questions stop and inquire of the interpreter if in fact they are able to communicate well with the client. Perhaps the source communication from the client is also unclear, or they may be having some other difficulty that clouds communication, such as mental illness issues. It may be that the client speaks an indigenous language and speaks, for example, Spanish only as a second language but was embarrassed to admit this to the interpreter when initially asked. Or you may have an interpreter who is in over her head.

The most common complaint about unprofessional interpreters is that they seem to be abbreviating. Some languages do simply take much longer to speak. It takes 6 times longer to say something in Russian than in Chinese. However if there are several instances where a long statement is rendered with a very short interpretation stop and express your concern to the interpreter and reiterate that they interpret fully and exactly. Similarly if the interpretation seems much longer than your client’s statement you might stop and make sure the interpreter is not adding anything.

There should not be any back and forth conversation between the interpreter and your client. If the interpreter needs to ask the client what a term they have used means, or couldn’t make out what the client said and needs a repetition, the interpreter should tell you that this is what she is doing, with something like, “The interpreter needs to clarify a term used”. If there is unexplained cross-talk stop and ask the interpreter to explain the discussion and remind her to please interpret everything completely.

Other scenarios to watch out for:

  • Interpreter is coaching the client (uses body language to suggest answer)
  • Mumbling client or interpreter
  • Can’t understand the interpreters English
  • Interpreter using "He says", "she says"
  • Interpreter looks lost with terminology but doesn’t say so

In general I suggest that you address these problems by briefly stating the problem, reminding them of the value, and requesting a clear solution.

Problem: Be specific, describe the behavior don’t judge or label it, don’t label the person

Value: In this scenario this is almost always clear communication, or direct, effective, etc.

Solution: Be specific, describe the behavior or give an example.

Example: Interpreter, I just heard my client give a long answer in Russian and you just rendered it in English with only 3 words. I want to be sure everything is communicated accurately and completely, please give me a full interpretation of absolutely everything that my client says. What exactly did my client just say?

One last reminder of my professional pet peeve: Interpretation is oral and Translation is written. Yes, often confused, but getting it right is a way to show you know and care about multilingual access!

Friday, April 3, 2009

cultivos de pancoger

cultivos de pancoger: food crops

fanTAStic video by Witness for Peace
well worth watching!

Shoveling Water from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

Friday, March 13, 2009

cocina comunitaria

community kitchen

my apologies for the silence - I'm in the midst of transitioning from Bogota to Vancouver, currently floating around the Vancouver area while I search for a home, and kitchen. but I did want to post an update to my last entry, comedor popular. I talked to Gustavo about it again right before I left and he said that there are also cocinas comunitarias in Bogota that function much as community ktichens seem to in Vancouver - the same group of people cooks then eats together. He also pointed out that most comedores in Bogota are actually called comedores comunitarios, rather than populares.

Monday, February 23, 2009

comedor popular

community cafe (UK) or community cafe or kitchen (Canada). NOT a soup kitchen comedor infantil - kids cafe, or kids kitchen.

Comedores populares are usually nonprofit or government run, and are generally low cost, rather than free (though there are some that are free). The term soup kitchen implies free, though some may be low cost. Soup kitchens, in the US at least, are rarely if ever run by a government entity. Community cafe's are a whole fabulous movement in the UK.

Community kitchens seem to be more of a Canadian concept and movement. They seem a bit different in that it seems that everyone who eats pays a small amount, but also participates in some way (as opposed to maybe volunteering, maybe not).

In the States there really doesn't seem to be a great equivalent to the comedores. We had one community cafe in Seattle for a while, that used that name and aimed to provide great tasting food to low income folks (and not) at a sliding scale, but low cost. I loved to eat there, it was close to the courts where I interpreted, but last I knew it went under. My vote would be for using and increasing the use of the term and concept community cafe in the US.

I do NOT like the Spanish wikipedia entry for comedores, which claims that it IS equivalent to a soup kitchen and is always a charity project (whereas I would argue soup kitchens are charity, comedores populares are more likely to be solidarity). I also don't love the English wikipedia entry for soup kitchen, which says that they serve at free or low price. I think the general connotation for soup kitchen is free, not low price.

The photo here is from a comedor run by the anti-militarist women's movement the OFP, which makes explicity the links beetween food security and broader forms of physical security.

The city of Bogotá, under Lucho Garzon, the first leftist mayor in years, set up 800, yes 800, new comedores populares. And what do you know, this was all headed up by a human geographer! (Gustavo Montañez)

Thanks to my friend Claire for the UK insights, check out her great blog about her peacemaking work in Colombia.

Does this sense of the terms ring true with your experience? thoughts?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


potluck: comida comunitaria

This is actually my own invention, since gatherings of people where each person is expected to bring a dish of food to be shared among the group don't seem to be as common in Latin America and as far as I know there is not a set term for them. I'd love other suggestions.

from the wikipedia:
Folk etymology has derived the term "potluck" from the Native American custom of potlatch; the word "potluck", however, is actually of English origin. It is a portmanteau word formed from (cooking) pot and lucke. The earliest written citation is from 1592: "That that pure sanguine complexion of yours may never be famisht with pot lucke," Thomas Nashe.[3] As this shows, the original meaning was "food given away to guests", probably derived from "whatever food one is lucky enough to find in the pot", i.e. whatever food happens to be available, especially when offered to a guest. By extension, a more general meaning is "whatever is available in a particular circumstance or at a particular time." The most common usage was within inns, taverns, and staging posts in the United Kingdom from the 16th century onwards. A wealthy traveller might ask what the hosteller had to offer to eat, and be told 'chicken', or 'beef' etc., and choose it. The poorer traveller might have to do with 'pot luck', a stew of whatever was left over from the fare of the last few days or weeks. Having usually been boiled many times over, it was safe enough, and often tasty, though its nutritional value was often low. Accompanied by starchy foods like bread or potatoes, however, the traveller might go to bed well satisfied. This form of eating lasted into the 20th century.

Monday, February 2, 2009

study of court interpreting

I have yet to read this book, but it looks fantastic. She looks at things like how attention is shifted to the court interpreter in proceedings, how the interpreter affects testimony styles and length, the impact of interruptions, and how interpreters deal with passive voice for blame avoidance in Spanish.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


simple: sencillo

yes, you could use simple too, but since one of its most commonly used definitions is also tonto, as well as ordinary and common, I would avoid it as a fairly false cognate. besides, sencillo means unassuming, plain, modest - in ways that simple in Spanish doesn't always.

At the inauguration the star studded quartet played a version of Simple Gifts, one of my favorite songs. You can download it here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

machine translation: what is it good for?

I will get back to posting terms soon, but one more meta comment for now:

What I tell organizations, when they ask me about it, is:
Machine translation should be used on non-essential inbound texts ONLY - to get an idea (sort of) of what other folks are saying. If you don't want to run the risk of being wildly misunderstood and saying something offensive you should never use it for outbound texts. You should also never ever use it as the first step in a human translation project. For some reason a lot of activists seem to think that putting it through a machine first will make the human work easier, but honestly it makes it harder, because once you have seen it rendered wrong, it will be harder to think of how to say it right - and your human translation will never be as good if you start with the machine weirdness. Just start from scratch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Not a term, but a recommendation to watch movies with subtitles whenever you can, to see how they translate terms. I know, annoying to read the subtitles the whole way through. I usually just look down when a term comes up that I'm not sure about how to render. A great source for good documentaries is this blog, which is where I got the link to the great documentary below, Fog of War. When I've done subtitles myself one of the challenges I've faced is figuring out if it's better to put two lines of text up for a shorter time, or three for a longer time. Watch how other subtitlers do this to get a sense of what you like.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

quizzing yourself

There's really no way of getting around studying lists to improve your handle on obscure terms (I have spent far too many hours of my life studying Sp/En lists of obscure legal terminology). With web 2.0 there are at least now new ways of doing flashcards. In the past I've recommended quizlet. Now there's also verbalearn - that you can also download onto your ipod/etc. Haven't tried the latter, but seems worth a go if you're studying for a certification exam (and yes, I do think it's worth working your way up the interpretation certifications ladder, even if you're mostly a movement interpreter - but of course, I did work my way up the ladder and then jumped onto the much longer ladder of graduate school, so who am I to say). (I added both of these to the good tools sidebar section)