Thursday, December 30, 2010

primero Dios

primero Dios: if it is God's will

I have often struggled to interpret this saying, which is sometimes sprinkled liberally throughout sentences. I liked this version in today's Democracy Now! headlines. If you're not listening to these daily online - why not? Best independent media out there, in both English and Spanish. Great way to practice.

So the relevant headline today was about Dilma Rousseff being sworn in as Brazil’s first female president on Saturday. Outgoing president Lula said:

"It is deeply symbolic that the presidential sash is being handed over from the first working-class president to the first female president. This will be a landmark in the beautiful path our people have been building to turn Brazil, if it’s God’s will, into one of the world’s most equal countries."

May this new year bring more equality to us all! Many thanks to those of you who read this blog and care about making our movements more multilingual, and especially to those who comment. May we achieve better working conditions as interpreters and translators in the new year!

Friday, December 24, 2010


una tertulia: a 'salon' or an artsy 'get-together'

When I went looking for images online, they were mostly of men talking. Hmmm.

Interestingly, the word has made it into the English language wikipedia, which says that it is "a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones, especially in Iberia or Latin America. The word is originally Spanish, and has only moderate currency in English, in describing Latin cultural contexts."

The Spanish language wikipedia dice "Una tertulia es una reunión, informal y periódica, de gente interesada en un tema o en una rama concreta del arte, ciencia o filosofia, para debatir e informarse o compartir ideas y opiniones. Por lo general la reunión tiene lugar en un café o cafetería, y suelen participar en ellas personas del ámbito intelectual. Es una costumbre de origen español y se mantuvo arraigada hasta mediados del siglo xx en las colonias independizadas del imperio español. A los asistentes se les llama contertulios o tertulianos." y claro, la definición de ahí sigue y sigue.

Anyways, hope you have some fun artsy conversations over the holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

no manches

no manches: you've got to be kidding!

Yes, it's a cleaner version, but what I came up with. Any other suggestions?

Never heard this saying? Then you must have never 'shot the shit' with a Mexican!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

caminar la palabra

walk our talk (be the change)

I've seen all sorts of strange literal versions of this - most recently 'may words walk'! very poetic, but just not how we're used to saying or hearing it in English. When someone's words and actions are congruent we say they walk their talk. They practice what they preach.

For more on whether or not Gandhi actually said 'be the change you want to see in the world' see this good bit on it from the metta center.

I came back to academia in part because of my frustration that solidarity organizing often did not ‘walk the talk’, and had trouble ‘being the change’ we wanted to see in the world. It is hard to work together across gulfs of distance and difference without falling into old colonial patterns. My other blog, decolonizing solidarity, talks about these issues. Much, but not all, of it focuses on the tactic of solidarity. I turned to accompaniment for my research because it is the solidarity tactic that most explicitly uses inequalities based on colonial histories. Can even accompaniment be decolonized? Can geopolitical/racial privilege actually be used against empire and for justice and peace? Dissertation deadline? early May.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

School of the Americas Watch

SOA Watch = Observatorio por el cierre de la Escuela de las Americas
(I've been leaving out the por el cierre but the Latin American encuentro of the movement settled on this, for greatest clarity)

check out this AMAZING presence on the stage at the SOA Watch vigil last week by MECHA students.

Monday, November 29, 2010

derechos de petición (Colombia)

rather than translate literally I would render this as: similar to freedom of information requests (known as FOIA requests in the US - but just freedom if information in the UK and Canada - and since this is understandable in the US I would go with that).

Kudos to Peter Cousins, of FOR, who used this phrase in a newsletter talking about the new book by Javier Giraldo about the peace community of San Jose. As he puts it, "The substance of the book meticulously recalls the acts and threats of violence against the Peace Community over the 13 years of its existence, and details the derechos de petición (similar to freedom of information requests) concerning these attacks which have been sent to various governmental representatives, and either ignored or treated superficially."

Friday, November 19, 2010

the black caucus (US)

bancada de congresistas afrodescendientes, o la bancada negra

fue como tradujeron a Angela Davis en este articulo sobre racismo en Colombia

Friday, November 12, 2010

great social justice translation/bilingual media work opportunity

did you hear about the great protests in Copenhagen for climate justice? want to be part of the fun and excitement in the next round?

Climate Justice Now! is looking for Mexican and other students from the region committed to climate justice to serve as CJN!-COP16 interns/press room support at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16) in Cancun Nov. 27-Dec. 11.

Students interested in helping must be committed to fighting for climate justice and working to support grassroots activists, leading policy thinkers and researchers, especially those from the global south.

Ideally, each student should be FLUENT in Spanish & English so they can work fast, in the frenzied UN conference space. Each student MUST have her/his own cell phone and her/his own laptop, with functioning WIFI--and with SKYPE up and properly functioning.

Students will be in and outside of the official conference hall and they might be assigned to cover external side events.

Responsibilities will include, but will not necessarily be limited to:
• Assisting on internal and external media operations: Press releases will be in English and Spanish, at least. It will be a MAJOR PLUS if interested students speak any other UN languages...French, Russian, Arabic, or Chinese.
• Logistics

• Blogging in English & Spanish.
• Note taking: Interns may be asked to divide up and cover sessions deemed relevant by the CJN! and strategic affiliates. They should be expected to take session notes in English &/or Spanish and may be asked to write blog entries or co-write press releases on these sessions--in cooperation with our press team--in English or Spanish.
• Possible co-support, rapid research as needed and requested for marginalized observer and country delegations.

Again, ideally each student will be FLUENT in Spanish & English so they can work fast.

These positions are unpaid. Students must arrange and fund their own travel to Cancun.

Interested applicants send resume to Lauren Gifford at

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

great training for social justice interpreters

At Wayside, in Virginia, Dec 3-5

Bilingual social justice activists and workers who would like to learn more about interpreting and translating in a social justice context to empower immigrant communities and build alliances across communities.


* Interpreter Role and Ethics
* Interpretation modes
* Use of interpreting equipment
* Differences and similarities in social justice interpreting
* Impact of language barriers in social justice movement building
* How to create a multilingual space

More info here

Monday, November 8, 2010

it's a piece of cake

pan comido

now if only finishing my dissertation were that easy!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

zona campesina

"small farmer reserve zone" - see the video below about this zone, one of various attempts in Colombia to create safe/peace spaces - also called humanitarian zones, peace laboratories, peace communities, communities for dignity and life, communities in resistance, and I'm sure other names that I've missed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

plata o plomo

I recently watched this movie, and in it a DEA officer mangles this saying. His Spanish is so bad he says they were facing "plato o pluma"!! Talk about how accent can change meaning! Plate or pen. I'm still chuckling in horror about this. Dramatically less dire than bribe or bullet! If you want to be even clearer and aren't doing simultaneous, you could render this as 'take the bribe or take the bullet' - as Winifred Tate does in her fabulous book (2007, p. 49). This is a threat that was widely used on Colombian government officials by drug traffickers in the 80s.

Tate, W., 2007. Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia, 1st ed. University of California Press.

Friday, October 15, 2010


It depends on the way the word is being used (ie, with what definition),
but it is usually NOT compromiso!! (a common and dangerous false cognate).

My friend Sarah Henken asked me to blog what I use for this. I like punto medio acordado (and when doing simultaneous after the first time I just use punto medio). There's also acuerdo mutuo. Any other suggestions?

Friday, October 8, 2010


lobby: hacer incidencia (cabildeo, lobby)

Last week John Pluecker commented on advocacy that Mexican human rights activists and lawyers were using the term "hacer incidencia" - but this is actually what I use for lobbying, as distinct from the broader term of advocacy. In Colombia I often hear the term lobby used in English, as in, 'toca hacer lobby.' I think the RAE would probably go for cabildeo, but this seems more formal and less widely understood to me than incidencia. Thoughts?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


advocacy: intercesion
advocate: intercesora

This is my favorite for general use, but in some contexts defensora or promotora might be a beter fit. I'm not a huge fan of abogacia because intercesion covers it, but doesn't get people thinking of it as something only done by abogados.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Dicho: caballo matado siempre se pandea. A horse with a sore back will always flinch. What do you think this means? It is supposed to mean that people are sensitive to the mention of their defects, but would you have guessed that if you didn't know? Here's a good example of where translation is not enough. Sayings can be SO hard.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

white man's burden

white man's burden: la carga del hombre blanco

see the English and Spanish wikipedia entries about this, as linked above.

The term comes from Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, which begins:
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

mountaintop removal take two

Here's another activist video about this tragedy, this time about how it is being done in Colombia. The term they use here is "mineria contaminante a cielo abierto", which I like better than megamineria a lo abierto, which is what they used in this Argentinian video

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

be part of the Voice of Love project

THE VOICE OF LOVE Project is a pro bono, all-volunteer project spear-headed by Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma and Cross-Cultural Communications (which has resources for community interps - check them out).

THE VOICE OF LOVE project is developing a three-day interpreter training program to support quality services to survivors of torture, trauma and sexual violence.

As part of needs assessment for this project, the VOL team is currently conducting focus groups and surveys of interpreters who work with survivors and staff who works with survivors and interpreters. These work products will be made available free of charge to any agency that serves survivors.

If you interpret for survivors of torture, war trauma and sexual assault, in refugee resettlements, and/or for mental/behavioral health services, please take a minute to support this great work by taking this survey.

Friday, August 27, 2010

vereda (third time is the charm?)

vereda: hamlet; rural community.

I've posted twice before about the Colombian term 'vereda. I keep changing my mind on what I like. FOR these days seems to mostly use hamlet. PBI in the video below uses rural community which I like, though it's pretty vague.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the amazing babel box

Affordable appropriate tech simultaneous interpreting equipment. Need I say more? This is so obviously a wondrous and dearly necessary thing. Check it out, from the uber activist geeks with the mostest, the Intergalactic Interpretation Collective, it's the ...... babel box! Great name or what? They provided the equipment for the recent US social forum. See the set up below, and their site here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

the language you speak shapes how you think

Well, duh. But great article about recent research on this here, in the WSJ. Strangely, as my stepdad pointed out, it doesn't mention the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. But still, worth a read.

I recommend the whole thing, but here are some good nuggets:

Take "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say "sat" rather than "sit." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change the verb to mark tense.
In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.

In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form


* Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
* Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
* The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
* In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn't remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: "The vase broke itself," rather than "John broke the vase."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

what is the easiest way to do subtitles?

A friend just pointed me to the site dot sub as a free and easy way to do subtitles.

Has anyone used this? Liked it?

Any other suggestions for subtitling that's easier and more accesible to activists than full on video editing software?

Friday, July 30, 2010


regalías (Mex): benefits (ie sick days, health insurance)

This is a great 15 minute documentary that you should watch if you've ever been on a vaction to Cancun, or are considering it. It reminded me that regalias is used this way in Mexico, though it certainly isn't recognized as meaning this by the RAE. You might notice that they also translate barraca as labor camp.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I've posted before on the term token, and there was a great discussion in the comments about how token is different than the effort to reach equality through quotas - basically quotas can be useful as a way to get to equality, as loaded as they can be, and it is not a term to participate in pejorativizing. Months later my colleague and friend Jonathan Sanders just sent me this great follow up idea:

"I had a thought about how to translate "tokenism" and related adjectives, nouns, etc.

"hacer acto de ser incluyente" or "hacer acto de inclusión". The same way you can "hacer acto de presencia" in the sense to "put in an appearence" just so that they you know you were there, you "hacer acto de ser incluyente" so that you go down on the record as supporting diversity. What do you think?"

I think it's fantastic! What do others say?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

talking heads

talking heads: cabezas pensantes

Thanks to my friend Juan Carlos in El Salvador for this one. It cracks me up that in Spanish they think, in English they just talk. No, I don't mean the band. You know what I mean, the old guard leadership (las vacas sagradas) all up at a speakers table, just talking at us, no interaction, no participation, very old school. I continue to be frustrated at how much of this still goes on in the movement. Let's walk our talk and talk differently!

(the lettering on this New Yorker cartoon is tiny but it reads "the subject of tonight's discussion is: why are there no women on this panel?")

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I've been having good look lately with reverso, an online dictionary that's new to me. Even better yet, it has twofirefox add-ons so you can get in that fabulous little search bar in the upper right where my word-reference dictionary also lives (links to those and other goodies you can have live there in the tools section on the left of the blog).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

mountaintop removal

fantastic video! which Argentinian tv refused to air. here they call it la megamineria a lo abierto. what term have you been using? and how many mountains went into your gold ring?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

sufragios y coronas

sufragios y coronas: funeral prayers and wreaths.

I was very proud to interpret for Yessika Hoyos this morning at a national labour convention (of NUPGE). I watched this video to prepare and was struck by the translation of these two macabre forms of death threats. Of course sufragio can also refer to the vote, so pay attention to context, but I'm afraid that today's vote in Colombia is likely to lead to more death threats for unionists and human rights workers if Santos wins. All the more reason we need good translation and interpretation of the brave Colombians struggling for justice!

Monday, June 14, 2010

planes de vida

planes de vida: plans for life, vs life plans

I've seen this phrase, common in Colombian social justice movements, rendered as life plans, but I think that in English we're used to that meaning our individual life plans - ie, to buy a house, have a baby, etc. In the Colombian context these are community plans for protecting and sustaining life, as in, actually staying alive, and then about thriving.

art by Rini

Thursday, June 10, 2010

US Social Forum interpreting needs support


Join GGJ in supporting Language Access at the USSF
The Grassroots Global Justice Alliance is committing $500 to support the Language Access Support Fund (LASF) of the United States Social Forum (USSF). The LASF was established last month to support the expenses of bi-lingual interpreters volunteering their services for USSF activities. As we know translation and interpretation is hard work. Interpreters at the USSF are volunteering their time but in many cases will not have funds to cover basic expenses while in Detroit. The fund will help cover living expenses for up to 25 interpreters who will work many hours translating and interpreting workshops, plenaries and Peoples' Movement Assemblies.

The USSF has established a goal of $20,000 for the LASF. GGJ's contribution will bring the total amount raised thus far to $7,500. Seed funding of $4,000 was provided by the USSF, the French American Charitable Trust based in San Francisco has also contributed $3,000.

We urge all organizations, individuals and foundations to help us reach our goal and match the contributions of the USSF, FACT and GGJ. Any amount will be significant! To make a contribution, please make checks out to Praxis Project/USSF. Please put a note in the memo line that it is for Language Access Support Fund!

Send checks to:
Praxis Project
1750 Columbia Road NW, Second Floor
Washington DC 20009

For any questions related to Language Access, please contact Roberto Tijerina, Chair, Language Access Working Group:

Únase a GGJ en apoyar Acceso Lingüístico en el Foro Social

La Alianza Popular para la Justicia Global (GGJ por sus siglas en inglés) ha comprometido $500 al Fondo de Apoyo para el Acceso Lingüístico (LASF por sus siglas en inglés) del Foro Social Estadounidense (FSE). El LASF se estableció el mes pasado para apoyar con los gastos de interpretes bilingües que están sirviendo de voluntarios/as en las actividades del FSE. Como sabemos, la interpretación como la traducción requieren mucho esfuerzo. Los/as interpretes del FSE están sirviendo de voluntarios/as pero en muchos casos no tienen los fondos para cubrir sus gastos básicos mientras en Detroit. El fondo ayudará cubrir los gastos de 25 interpretes que trabajaran muchas horas traduciendo e interpretando los talleres, sesiones plenarias, y Asambleas de Movimiento Popular.

El FSE ha puesto la meta de $20.000 para el LASF. La contribución de GGJ alza la suma actual a $7.500. El FSE proveyó $4.000 de fondos iniciativos, el Fideicomiso Caritativo Franco-americano (FACT por sus siglas en inglés) basado en San Francisco también ha contribuido $3.000.

Encomiamos a todas las organizaciones, fundaciones, y a individuos/as a ayudarnos en alcanzar nuestra meta con donaciones pareadas a las del FSE, FACT, y GGJ. ¡Cualquier cantidad es significante! Para contribuir, por favor escribe su cheque a Praxis Project/USSF. Por favor anote que es para Language Access Support Fund!

Mande los cheques a:
Praxis Project
1750 Columbia Road NW, Second Floor

Washington DC 20009

Para preguntas relacionadas al Acceso Lingüístico, por favor comuníquese con Roberto Tijerina, Presidente, Grupo de Trabajo de Acceso Lingüístico:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


stakeholders: partes interesadas

Wikipedia in english defines as:

those entities within or outside an organization which:

a) Sponsor a project or,

b) Have an interest or a gain upon a successful completion of a project.

c) May have a positive or negative influence in the Project Completion.

But I actually don't like that definition much - besides being poorly written, it doesn't seem to apply well to a social justice context. Anyone up for editing the wikipedia? It's easy! Though of course this is generally a more business-y term, far too often imported into social change work for my taste.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I've posted twice before about campesino

Human Rights Watch recently put out a report on the "new" paramilitaries in Colombia, and included a page with short videos about it. This is a great strategy as most of us probably won't want to wade through the report. They have great subtitles throughout, especially in the short videos labeled "three stories". The translator clearly prioritized being compelling and easily readable rather than overly literal - important for this sort of work. One of the things that jumped out at me was that they used farmworker for campesino. The thing is, that in the US this implies that you don't work your own land, but someone else's - which is often but not always true of campesinos. The nice thing about campesino is that it includes both the English terms 'small farmer' or 'family farmer' and 'farmworker'. Ah, the challenges of there being no exact equivalent!

(pic by Rini)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

interpreting tip: body language and um's and ah's

Another useful reminder from the ATA Chronicle article in the December issue on the pitfalls of long consecutive mode in the courtroom, by Janis Palma.

" When a witness uses body language to complete a verbal message, the consecutive interpretation has to be delivered within a timeframe that allows the target language listeners to put the words and gestures together in a way that makes sense. We cannot emulate those gestures and incorporate them into our verbal rendition. Interpreting “He went like this and then I felt something here and as we were struggling I felt him hit me over here, so I went like that and hit him back, but then he threw a punch and I ended up on the ground" interpreting after the witness is done gesturing, without matching those gestures to his words, will be a senseless exercise that will surely leave the target-language listeners wondering what it all meant."

Generally my sense is that movement interpreters with little training tend to do consecutive that is TOO short to make sense, but here is a case where shorter consec is important. Janis also says that in long consecutive it is nearly impossible for the interpreter to deliver all the right pauses, inflections, hesitations, incomplete sentences, false starts, and repetitions. I have heard interpreters attempt it, plummeting into this mechanical read-back of copious notes, with absolutely counterproductive results because the listener is missing out on all the nuances, even
when he is getting all the words. "

Of course sometimes repetitions and hedges are meaningful, sometimes not - and we can be more flexible about this in a community speaking event than in the courtroom.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

mesa de trabajo

working group (or sometimes comité is more appropriate if it is an ongoing group)
NOT worktable or, as I recently heard it rendered, workshop.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

falsos positivos (I promise to quit obsessing about this term)

I couldn't resist posting about this one more time because I really liked the rendition in this article:
"the body count scandal". It seems to me that this one gives readers/listeners not familiar with Colombia much more of a clue of what it might all be about. This obviously won't work when your speaker refers to a so-called "false positive", but if they're talking about the scandal as a whole, I vote for this version.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


One of the things we can do to improve translations for social change is to educate our movements on how to write (and edit) documents so that they are more easily and clearly translatable. To this end I want to share here some great suggestions for this from technical writer Fiona Hannington:

"Writing for ESL and writing for translatability makes for good technical writing, regardless of whether we have ESL readers (we do) or expect the docs to be translated (maybe one day).
In particular:
  • Use simple sentence constructions of subject-verb-object.
  • Use the active voice. The passive voice, although appropriate sometimes, can introduce ambiguity (who or what is the actor?).
  • Use pronouns clearly so that the antecedent is obvious.
  • Avoid turning verbs into nouns (nominalization).
  • Avoid phrasal and modal verbs. Phrasal verbs have two or more words. Choose a one-word verb that says the same thing. Modal verbs express the mood of the main verb ("should," "could," "can," "would," "might," and "may"). Use these when there is no other way to make these subtle distinctions. Certainly avoid using both phrasal and modal verbs together.
  • Avoid noun strings (more than one adjective).
  • Use positive language: avoid negative constructions.
  • Choose one term for a concept and use it consistently.
  • Do not omit articles and prepositions when they help to clarify the meaning.
  • Avoid wordiness: keep sentence length under 20 words.
To maintain synchronization [nominalization] between the two controller cards, the operating system occasionally performs an automatic reload of [nominalization] the standby controller card. To facilitate the automatic reload [repetitive; nominalization] of an controller card, the auto-boot? variable must be set [passive] to true.
To synchronize the two controller cards, the operating system occasionally reloads the standby controller card automatically. To enable this process, set the auto-boot? variable to true."

Fantastic. Thanks Fiona!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


artivist: artivista

according to the (longer) English wikipedia definition:
Artivist is a portmanteau word combining "art" and "activist". Artivism developed in recent years while the anti-globalization and antiwar protests emerged and proliferated. In most of the cases artivists attempt to push political agendas by the means of art. Yet this is not political art as it was known before, in the sense of artworks being political. The artivist is often involved in Streetart or Urban Art, Adbusting or Subvertising.

When I went looking for this word in Spanish I found that Kayhan Irani has the fabulous website (though she's of Iranian descent, so maybe this word works in Farsi too, but I'm guessing she got it from the Spanish). She also edited the great book, “Telling Stories to Change the World: Global Voices on the Power of Stories to Build Community and make Social Justice Claims”, which I really enjoyed.

The photo here is graffiti in Bogotá.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

arengas (interpreting tip)

I haven't found a great rendition of the word arenga itself - rallying cry just has a less powerful ring to it. But check out the great Spanish wikipedia entry on arengas -

and here are some arengas I interpreted at the last vigil to close the School of the Americas (the picture here is from an action to close the SOA that I was part of last Monday while I was in DC - which is why I haven't posted in a while):

por que, por que, por que nos asesinan, si somos la esperanza de america latina!

why, why, why do they assasinate us, we are the HOPE of latin america!

por nuestros muertos, ni un minuto de silencio, toda una vida de lucha!
for our dead, not one minute of silence, but an entire lifetime of struggle!

That last one you'll hear alot from Colombians. The key to interpreting at rallies is to know that it's likely the speaker will throw in an arenga. They usually know before they get on stage which they will use, so be sure to ask them ahead of time and figure it out before hand so that you can be calm and say it strongly and with passion, instead of panicking about rhymes, etc. In this situation finding one with a better ring is more important than being strictly literal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

accents (becoming a better interpreter tip)

One of the skills you need as an interpreter is being able to understand different accents, mumbling, and voices in general. One fun (and sometimes crazy making) way to practice this is by listening to music and making out what they're saying. Now there's a fabulous web site where you can practice this, called lyrics training. Select Spanish or English in top left and it will play you music videos in that language (you pick which, but one of the ones you could choose is this Oreja de Van Gogh one, above), and if you select easy it will give you most of the lyrics with some blanks to fill in. If you're an interpreter though, you should pick hard, where you have to fill in all of the lyrics. The great thing is that it stops the song at the end of each line until you catch up with the typing. It's a fun game - you won't even notice that you're improving your interpreting skills!

Monday, March 29, 2010

falsos positivos (yet again!)

I keep posting about this term because it drives me crazy. It is such a dangerous euphemism! I ran into another proposal for what to call them in the video above (which has a part two), where they suggest simply calling them 'state crimes'. Of course it's not just any crime, it's assassination, presented as a (fake) combat death. It occurs to me that "assassination by the state" is more clearly understandable, and sounds more like the crime that it is, than the more legalistic term I've suggested before of 'extrajudicial execution'. But neither implies that the dead are then presented as a fake combat kill. Thoughts?

Ojo, the video is melodramatic and the translation of the subtitles is not great, but it's still important good work worth watching.

Monday, March 22, 2010

interpreting tips: emotion

The ATA Chronicle had a good article in the December issue on the pitfalls of long consecutive mode in the courtroom by Janis Palma. Some useful reminders:

"You have to modulate your voice so it conveys sentiment, not drama. For example, when someone cries or laughs, you are not expected to laugh or cry, but you should modulate your voice accordingly such that the nonverbal elements of the source- language message are not completely lost to the target language listener. If someone is crying and you are using a cheerful voice to interpret what that person is saying, the target language listener cannot possibly get to remorse a source language speaker may be trying to convey, or the sense of loss and tragedy, just from the words alone. Your performance has to carry the emotional aspect across languages as well.

Also, part of your responsibility as an interpreter is to bring all that feeling across from the source language to the target language without laying it on too thick. When you do, the attention shifts from the witness and what the witness has to say, to you and how you are putting on a show for the jury and everyone else in the courtroom."

moral? not NO intonation or inflection, but also not too much.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

no basta rezar

(from the classic movement song in the above video)
no, no, no basta rezar, hacen falta muchas cosas para conseguir la paz:
no, no, it's not enough to pray, there's a lot of work to do to make peace come our way

heh. pleased with the rhyme!

Monday, March 8, 2010


funny video about the different meanings of pendejo and coger. from a priest no less! from the fabulous narco news.

Monday, March 1, 2010

interpreters are organizing

this video is from a great campaign to try to save interpreting services in Washington state and allow interpreters union organizing rights.

Victory #1: More than 200 Interpreters came to Olympia to demand lawmakers listen to our concerns!

Victory #2: We got the funding for interpreters restored in the budget! ($16 million restored!) Finally lawmakers see how important the work of interpreters really is.

Victory #3: We won a majority of votes in the Senate for our bill.

Victory #4 is close: Now we must win a majority of votes in the House of Representatives before Fri.

We need your help. if you are in Washington state, please:

Please call and email your House of Representative lawmakers today and ask them to support interpreters by passing ESSB 6726.

It will take 2 minutes. Your phone call and email may make the difference between winning or losing a voice for interpreters to improve this professional. Please call today!

Just call 1-800-562-6000 and they will connect you with your appropriate lawmakers for your legislative district. You have 2 Representatives in the House of Representatives and 1 Senator. Make sure you leave messages or speak to all 3. Follow up with an email asking for their support.

What do you say when you call? " Please pass ESSB 6726 and give collective bargaining rights to interpreters!"

full campaign page here

Friday, February 26, 2010

becoming a better interpreter

Professional interps reading this, forgive my stating of the obvious, but those of you movement types breaking in to interpreting, here's a tip:

I can't recommend enough the importance of videotaping yourself interpreting. At least do audio, but video is much better, and is so ubiquitous these days. It can be from a phone, an ipod or a flip (pictured at right. surprisingly cheap).

Get a friend to do film you, either next time you interpret for real, or just for practice. You'll realize all sorts of things that you're too busy or nervous to catch in the moment. Look at your rendition - given time to think about it is that how you would interpret it next time? But also look at your style. How is your tone, your face, your body language?

One of the things that makes a lot of inexperienced movement interps stand out is bad use of body language. For some reason a lot of untrained interps are uncomfortable holding a pad of paper, and then they don't know what to do with their hands when in front of a crowd. You know who you are!

One of the first things you learn in any interpreter training is the importance of always having a cuadernito. Figure out which kind you like, and always have one on you. Always. Think of it as your security blanket. Even if you never write anything down on it but numbers and names, you have something in your hands. Of course, for good consecutive you really need to be writing down much more than numbers and names, but that's another topic.

If you're in Colombia norma puts out a great little green cuadernito. 80 hojas rayadas. The classic one most interps in the US use is just a steno pad. You want it to be small enough to carry easily, but not so small you have to turn the pages during a segment of speech.

Monday, February 22, 2010


solidarity: solidaridad. what I'm writing now to ask you for.

This time, the traffic changed, and they weren't able to force a car crash. This time, it was clear that Martha was in a bulletproof car, so when they pulled the machine gun out all they could do was yell and point it at her. This time, international solidarity will be strong, so that there won't be a next time.

Who wants to kill Martha? Why do they want to kill her? Well, I've written about her case before. Martha is a key witness in the case of several Colombian army soldiers who are accused of killing her father, Orlando Giraldo, an innocent civilian, and dressing him up to look like a guerrilla (to improve their 'combat kill' bodycount). He was one of thousands of documented cases of so called 'false positives'. There has yet to be any justice in any of these cases. Instead there has been all sorts of delays in the few cases that have made it to court, and many threats and attacks. Just last year Martha's uncle was shot in the head on the way to court to testify on this case.

Martha is incredibly brave to keep pressing forward on this case. Not only did she keep going to court after her uncle was shot, she came to the United States to speak about this case! She testified just a few months ago in front of Fort Benning at the vigil to close the School of the Americas (video of her speaking here), connecting the training of Colombian soldiers there to incidents like her father's murder. I was very honored to walk with her at the vigil, holding a banner remembering her father (see picture, I'm in orange and she is next to me).

Coming to the SOA vigil might have put her at even more risk now. But even after this attack, she has chosen NOT to flee into exile, but to keep pressing for justice. This is risky.

But you and I can do something to help protect Martha, especially if you are a US citizen. The US is not only a training but also funding the Colombian army. That's our taxdollars we're talking about (well, if you're in the US it is). So we can write and say that we are concerned about funding these fake combat kills in general, and Martha's dad in particular, and that we want justice in this case, and safety for Martha as a witness in it. There's a quick click system online to do this (with one click you can also send a message to Obama asking him to close the School of the Americas).

But you can do better than this oh-so-easy online action. Please also take two minutes to actually CALL the State Department Colombia desk. They got a bunch of calls on Friday, so I waited until today to ask for more calls. But we need to keep calling. If they get enough calls I do believe that they will be sure that the US ambassador says something to the right Colombian general who will say something to someone who will call off the death squad goons. Of course, please don't say that when you call. Below is a quick script of what you can say. You are likely to get an answering machine but go ahead and leave a quick message! Or if you get them, please be brief and polite.

The State Department folks to call are Terry Steers-Gonzalez (202-647-4173) or Susan Sanford (202-647-3142). Here is a little script you can go off of:

I am deeply concerned for the safety of Martha Giraldo and her family in Colombia. Martha's father was killed by the Colombian military in March 2006. Members of the 3rd Brigade are currently on trial for the killing. As Martha and her family have been working to bring justice to this case, they have received threats and her uncle--a witness in the case--was shot in the head by assassins last year. This week, while Martha was driving through Cali, gunmen tried to run her off of the road and pointed their guns at her.

Given the seriousness of this case, I ask that the State Department take a special interest in it. Please urgently communicate your concern for the safety of Martha Giraldo, and the rest of her family, to the appropriate Colombian government authorities, as they are at serious risk simply for calling for justice in the case against the killers of Jose Orlando Giraldo.

Also, as is typical in Colombia, the trial against her father's killers has been repeatedly stalled. I urge you to inquire about the status of the Jose Orlando Giraldo trial and express the State Department's interest in its swift completion.

Finally, please send Martha and her family a short letter of support. Martha is scared. Knowing she has support makes a huge difference in her spirits and her ability to keep moving forward on this case. Please take a minute to send her a letter today--in English or in Spanish (Witness for Peace will translate them if need be).

Actually, the truly last ask is for you to please hold Martha in your hearts and prayers, hold her in the light, send her energy of protection, or however it is you think of these things. Together we hold each other.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


judicializaciones (Colombia): bogus/trumped up/false criminal charges

As is detailed in this short video, the idea is not only to send a message to the death squads that it's open hunting, but to keep people busy fighting these charges and thus take their time away from political organizing. This is a growing perverse tactic used by the state to squash dissent.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the US Social Forum needs you

Greetings Friends!

We are planning for an historic moment. An estimated 20,000 grassroots organizers, workers, union members, community members, people of faith, educators, youth, peace activists, immigrant and indigenous populations, and displaced folks and evacuees are planning to convene in Detroit for the second United States Social Forum in June 2010. They will be gathering to learn from each other, build bridges between their communities, and share their visions for a more just world. (For more information on the forum, visit the website at

These important conversations can only happen through language negotiation: transmitting the meaning of the message without losing the flavor provided by the speaker. Interpreters – both spoken word and sign language – are key to this negotiation.

The organizing committee of the US Social Forum is calling for interpreters and translators of all languages to provide translation/interpretation services in anticipation of and throughout the gathering. Linguistic and interpreting proficiency are important, as are a passion for social justice, languages, and helping people to connect across linguistic barriers. The US Social Forum has not designated any “official” languages; any and all language combinations are welcome. There is a particular need however for Spanish/English and Arabic/English interpreters and translators.

The call at this time is three-fold. The most immediate call is for interpreters and translators. There is a time-sensitive need for folks who are interested in translating materials prior to the forum (the translation of materials is primarily from English into Arabic and Spanish). We also will need a strong team of qualified interpreters to provide simultaneous interpretation during the many events of the US Social Forum. If either of these is you, please send your name and contact information (email and telephone) to the Language Access Team ASAP at and we will contact you shortly.

The second part of the call is for folks who would are able to invest a little more time in the process and are willing to serve on the planning and oversight committee for language needs. This committee will negotiate interpreter logistics (recruiting, scheduling, and orientation), work with the program committee to address language needs at the US Social Forum, and engage other issues to ensure optimal language accessibility. A team of four or five folks that could take point on major areas of work would be ideal. The commitment at this time is to bimonthly calls. Needless to say, the more folks step up, the lighter the load on everyone. Also, we are committed to process that allows for full participation and that is transparent. If this is you, please let us ASAP at the above mentioned email.

Lastly, we are reaching out to persons and organizations that own and use interpretation equipment (shortwave microphone transmitters and receptors). We hope to minimize the cost of having to buy or rent the amount of equipment necessary for an undertaking of this size. If you or your organization own or have access to this any type of interpretation equipment, we ask that you consider sharing that equipment with the USSF for use at the forum. If you are so willing, please let us know via the above contact info.

While we encourage anyone who is interested to step up and participate, we would ask that folks take a minute to reflect on their capacity to do the work before committing. Language accessibility is very important to the success of any social justice gathering. When folks can’t follow through on their commitments, it puts a strain on the other interpreters and can result in participants being left out of the communication process.

The US Social Forum is an exciting, historic process. We invite you to be a part of transforming local communities, the United States, and the world.


The Language Access Working Group

PS – Please forward this to anyone you know that may be interested.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

when swear words hit at different registers

here is an article published in the NYT back in November, but Ricardo just brought it to my attention and it's relevant to the last post. what do you do with words that have an equivalent but carry much more charge in the target language?

Where the Swearing Is All About the Context

MEXICO CITY — Two teenage girls slurped iced coffee drinks at a sidewalk cafe the other afternoon and chatted away about boys, clothes, their weekend plans, whatever seemed to pop into their heads. They were clearly friends, but repeatedly referred to each other with a Spanish word meaning “ox” or “steer” or “stupid.”

Skip to next paragraph
Claudia Daut/Reuters

Workers fired by President Felipe Calderón protested last month. One sign said Mr. Calderón would sell his mother if he could.

The word — güey, also spelled buey — makes most lists of Mexican profanities, but it has been co-opted by the cool, young set as a term of endearment. One hears it constantly, as often as “dude” comes up in an English conversation.

Like many Mexicans, though, the teenage girls also dipped into a well-stocked arsenal of more potent curse words, most of which referred in one way or another to sex. Even those were uttered so casually, however, that they did not seem to carry much sting.

Mexicans, despite their reputation in Latin America for ultrapoliteness and formality, curse like sailors, a recent survey found. They use profanity when speaking with their friends, with their co-workers, with their spouses and even with their bosses and parents. On Independence Day, the thing to shout above all else is “Viva Mexico, Cabrones!” a patriotic exhortation directed at either bastards or buddies, depending on the tone employed.

Consulta Mitofsky, a Mexican polling firm, asked 1,000 Mexicans 18 and older about their use of “groserías,” as curse words are known in Spanish, and found that respondents estimated they used an average of 20 bad words a day. Those swearing the most, not surprisingly, were young people. “The generation younger than 30 sees the use of bad words as more natural and they use them not only in front of friends but, many of them say, in front of their parents or bosses,” the survey found.

... Exactly what is considered a bad word in Mexico can require some interpretation. There are various types of insults, some comparing people to animals, others referring to the diminished mental capacity of the recipient. Others refer to sex, naturally, using that most Mexican of words, “chingar,” which the Royal Spanish Academy of Language says is a derivative of the word “to fight” but that in Mexico can be very offensive or very innocuous or virtually anything in between.

“It is definitely personal,” the survey said of Mexicans’ propensity for cursing. “The same word applied in different contexts and in two different moments is seen in very different manners.”

It is almost always obvious, of course, when a curse is meant as a curse.

A woman walking by a group of construction workers the other day left no doubt as to her message when the men whistled at her and she shouted out a response. The electrical workers who were recently fired by President Felipe Calderón also clearly wanted the worst impression possible to be read into the protest signs they lofted. One banner, a tame one, referred to Mr. Calderón as a “pinche ladrón,” which can be translated as a “damn crook.” Pinche, though, can also be a word with no negative connotation at all, meaning a cook’s assistant. ....

Monday, February 1, 2010


marica : fag, faggot

The thing is that this term is used much more ubiquitously in Spanish, at least in Colombia. You could argue for rendering it as bud, dude, or guy the way it gets used almost every other word amongst friends some times. I would argue for not doing this and keeping it as fag. It may sound more shocking used like this in English, but it's useful for the listener to see that that this kind of homophobia is so normalized. I remember when fag used to be a much more common broad based insult when I was in high school in the 80s in Seattle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

subtitling a 12 year old.

good subtitling here, particularly of the testimony of the 12 year old boy at the beginning. Josh did a good job here of not being too literal and making it sound like the way a 12 year old would talk in English.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

the price of silence

This video is so fun! Check out the interpreter booths and the funny earpieces they use at the UN. They've been using that same sort of earpiece since the 40's. The seats have a built in spot for them in the armrests. It hangs off the top of your ear and though it looks funny it is probably more comfortable if you're going to have it on all day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

translating nonviolence

from the Albert Einstein institute translation procedures for translating texts on nonviolence:

Some of the English terms in this field do not translate readily into other languages. Other terms in this technique may be assumed at times to have exact foreign equivalents but those may not actually be accurate. For example, some persons have incorrectly translated the term “nonviolent action” into the target language as the equivalent of “passive resistance” although nonviolent action can be extremely active. Also, “nonviolent action” has often been translated as the equivalent of “nonviolence,” which also is inappropriate because “nonviolence” may be understood to involve ethical, moral, or religious beliefs (when the reality is that nonviolent action has been widely practiced by nonbelievers for pragmatic reasons). The widespread confusion between nonviolent action (or nonviolent struggle) and “nonviolence” is potentially very serious. Those beliefs in “nonviolence” may have their merits, but they are a
different phenomenon than pragmatic nonviolent struggle. When the term for
nonviolent action is mistranslated in this way, this technique may be summarily
rejected by persons and groups that regard themselves as realists. All persons
working on translations need to understand these differences very well.
There are additional issues with terminology as well. Direct equivalents
for “nonviolent action” and related terms may not already be in standard usage or
even exist in the target language. New terms may need to be coined and
introduced in some translations. For example, in Burma the term “political
defiance” was coined because anything called “nonviolent” had connotations of
passivity and naïveté.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

murio desangrado

murio desangrado: he died from blood loss
(even better suggestion from comments: bled to death)

One I hope you never have to say, but a good rendition of this phrase that came up in testimony by a mother of one of the recent extrajudicial army executions in Colombia (a so-called "false positive") in this great short piece about the new US military bases in Colombia by Al-Jazeera. In related Colombia news I'm disgusted to report that 17 of the alleged perpetrators of these so-called false positives have just been set free, supposedly because the courts were slogged. If the Obama administration insists on continuing to send massive amounts of money to Colombia, how about using it to fund the courts instead of the military?

Friday, January 1, 2010


brinconear: to skip

May you skip with joy in the new year!

this is a word I was reminded of by this fabulous letter, shared here with permission:

Dear friends,

After living for three years in the state of Arauca, I joined the Christian Peacemaker Team here in the city of Barrancabermeja on September 16. I’ll be returning to Arauca occasionally to visit friends and I’d like to share with you now a few of my favorite memories of that very beautiful and afflicted region.

Martin Sandoval and 13 other people were arrested for “rebellion” in the town of Arauquita on November 4, 2008. Martin is the president of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Arauca. The Committee organized a public hearing of the Congressional Human Rights Commission in Arauquita on July 31, 2008. More than 500 people attended that hearing during which Martin and other community leaders denounced the abuses committed by the army and police. Leaders of the Committee felt that Martin’s imprisonment was in retaliation for organizing the hearing.

I visited Martin twice in the Arauca City prison. “As a human rights defender in Colombia, the least that you can expect is to be imprisoned” he said. “This is a beautiful experience. We share everything with each other here.” He and the 13 others remained united, worked with a lawyer that provided a joint defense for all of them, and were finally released on May 14. I called Martin the following evening when he was at the welcome home celebration in Arauquita. He expressed his appreciation for my support and said, “You’re part of this family.”

When I returned to Arauquita in March (after being in the U.S. for two months), I received a wonderful welcome from many people there. Some of those friends were the man who repairs shoes in front of the church (we joke that he’s performing surgery); Maria who bakes pizza in a cart by the park, along with the group that congregates with her in the evening (Colorado who sells lottery tickets, and Jaime who has a repair shop but is also a painter and philosopher); and the man at the produce store who always calls my name and gives me the thumbs-up when I walk by. At the start of mass that evening, Father Fernando announced “We’re very glad to have with us again the best human rights defender around here.”

Alejandra was two years old when I moved to the town of Saravena in 2006. She lived a block away, and she would wave and call out “Gringo!” whenever I walked by. One evening when she was three, she ran down to the corner to meet me and was so excited that she started skipping back to her house. That seemed like an excellent idea to me and I began skipping alongside her in the street. This turned into our evening ritual and we would skip together along the entire block.

Unfortunately, after Alejandra turned four she became too self-conscious to continue skipping (I hope she grows out of that by the time she reaches my age). After several skip-less months, a young girl who lives across the street from Alejandra called out to me one evening and started skipping. She had seen our previous ritual and wanted to join in the fun. I crossed the street and we skipped together to the corner. She and a younger friend became my new skipping buddies and the evening ritual was revived.

On that same block, there’s a taxi driver that works the Saravena-Arauquita route and I’ve traveled with him various times. I saw him in front of his home one afternoon and he asked, with a smile, “Are you still skipping?”

In love and solidarity,


Photo of Martin during a visit to the Arauca City prison that was organized by the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights on October 10, 2008 – one month prior to his arrest: