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.