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Interview with Dr. Roseann Dueñas González
In the late 1970s, Dr. Roseann Dueñas González acted as a consultant to Congress in connection with the Court Interpreters Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-539). As a result of that law, Dr. González was part of the team effort develop the original Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE). The innovative objective approach to interpreter evaluation, embodied in this test, has become the model for most subsequent interpreter certification tests. Dr. González oversaw the development and administration of the FCICE until 2000. She is also the principal author of Fundamentals of Court Interpretation: Theory, Policy, and Practice, which has become the standard text in the field. Through a wide array of projects, Dr. González has devoted her career to improving access to critical services such as the courts, healthcare, and education, for language minorities nationally and internationally.
Dr. González is the Director of the Agnese Haury Institute at the University of Arizona. She was the founder of Institute and has been at its helm since its inception. The Agnese Haury Institute is a program for English<>Spanish interpreters in the US. The Institute, now in its 29thyear, offers a three-week course designed to develop language and interpreting services in multiple areas.
Who founded the program?
Dr. González: I founded the Summer Institute for Court Interpretation in 1983, but I owe a great deal to the vision and commitment of philanthropist Agnese Haury, whose unwavering support from the outset made the Institute possible. Agnese Haury is a remarkable woman with diverse interests. Though she is best known for her support of the University of Arizona’s nationally recognized Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research, she has a stalwart supporter of anthropological research and the protection of civil rights for language minorities. Early in her career, she worked for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the United Nations. In 1982, through her United Nations network, Mrs. Haury learned that an enormous population of limited -and non-English speakers- in the U.S. was being denied access to justice because of language barriers and inadequate interpreter services and approached me to find out how she could help. This began what would become a lifetime commitment to the cause of social justice on behalf of marginalized, underserved language minorities.
How did you become involved with the Institute?
Dr. González: Following passage of the Federal Court Interpreters Act of 1978, I developed the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination with a panel of subject matter experts. Then I realized that training was the essential component in developing the competence interpreters needed to be able to meet the standards of this professional certification. I worked with interpreter leaders and interpreter training specialists to create a curriculum that would focus on the linguistic and interpreting knowledge, skills, and strategies required to interpret in court.
Please explain the different phases of the program.
Dr. González: First, we offer two different annual Agnese Haury Institutes: the original training in court interpreting and a newer training in medical interpreting, which we started in 2002 in response to the changing needs of the interpreting community and to the increased attention that medical interpreting was receiving. In both cases, we infuse the training with a social justice emphasis on the impact that interpreters can have on the protection of civil rights and equality.
Our training is practice-intensive, focused on building interpreting accuracy and proficiency. We give content lectures on specialized topics that run the gamut of areas important to working interpreters, from law, ethics, and protocol to specialized vocabulary, memory enhancement techniques, note-taking skills, and self-instruction techniques, to forensics and regional distinctions in Spanish, among many others. These lectures introduce students to key concepts, specialized terminology, appropriate usage, and interrelationships of meaning in context. These same topics are then integrated into language-lab style interpreting practice focused on different modes of interpreting, which reinforces students’ understanding and their acquisition of technical vocabulary and usage.
How are teaching levels (beginning, intermediate and advanced) determined?
Dr. González: With both annual institutes, we begin with a pre-test to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses. We can then group students based on the results. This allows our faculty to tailor the practice materials to the characteristics of each student group.
Why do you think programs like this could enhance the profession?
Dr. González: Programs like the Agnese Haury Institute focus on achieving the accuracy required to assist courts, hospitals, and agencies to work towards the goal of providing an equal opportunity to justice, medical care, and other services.
More accurate interpreting is paramount to achieving the goal of linguistic access. Graduates have improved the professional standing of the field by enhancing interpreter and translator performance, making them aware of the many variables that impact meaning, and developing their ability to reduce performance error by expanding linguistic proficiency, honing interpreting skills, and learning interpreting strategies that lead to more efficient and effective transfer of meaning. Graduates of professional programs also gain an insight into the principles of ethical practice, which are often difficult to acquire in the isolated world of the practicing interpreter or translator. They also obtain the knowledge required to educate their clients, such as attorneys, judges, doctors, and other healthcare providers and legal workers about language access policies and language accommodations.
Graduates of our institute have become the leaders in the field, founding professional organizations, advocating on behalf of language minorities and the interpreting profession, engaging in scholarship and research, assuming leadership roles in the public and the private sectors, becoming excellent trainers themselves.
Is there a relationship between the Consortium for Language Access of the National Center for State Courts and the Institute?
Dr. González: Besides having a collegial relationship with all testing organizations, no. The Institute is independent of all interpreter certification programs, the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination, the Consortium, and others. Many of our students attend to prepare for taking their certification tests.
What would you like to see, in terms of interpreter training in this country?
Dr. González: We desperately need more undergraduate and graduate programs in translation and interpretation. The dearth of these programs is a sad commentary on our society’s lack of understanding of what is required to participate competitively in a global economy, and what is required to meet the needs of its own linguistically and culturally diverse population. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education [FIPSE], we were able to develop and implement an undergraduate degree program in Spanish translation and interpretation, with a focus on legal and medical interpreting, at the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, it is one of the few undergraduate programs in the country. There are also a handful of graduate programs, but far too few. More college level programs are essential to the continued growth of the field.
There also need to be more programs at the professional level. I would like to see more agencies that utilize interpreter services—courts, hospitals, school districts, and so on—recognize the value of these services for their clients, and invest in the development of their interpreter corps. There are some forward-thinking agencies that do so, but too often interpreter services are seen as a necessary evil and given the minimum level of attention possible.
Are there other programs that help interpreters go into specialized areas in the field?
Yes. To name a few, NAJIT, the California Federation of Interpreters, and other professional organizations are working hard to meet the needs of professional interpreters as well as to offer effective strategies and topics to improve skills and expand conceptual and knowledge and linguistic proficiency. The Monterey Institute of International Studies offered its first certificate course in interpreting in 1983.
Francesca (Fran) Samuel is a native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and has been a member of ATA since 1999. She served as Assistant Administrator of the Spanish Language Division (2006-2010) and is the founder of http://www.alacartetranslations. com. She works as a freelance interpreter in Immigration Court and is also a member of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.