Originally established by the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT), International Translation Day is celebrated around the world to recognize the invaluable work language professionals provide to our communities.
In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly officially declared September 30 (which coincides with the feast day of Jerome, patron saint of translators, librarians, libraries, archivists, and encyclopedists) International Translations Day.
One of our very favorite things is recognizing the exceptional work interpreters, translators, linguists, and terminologists do, and we’re so happy there’s an official day to give kudos to the people who help fuel intercultural awareness and communication.
In conversation with CLI’s translations manager
At CLI, we celebrated International Translation Day by having a chat with Katie, our document translations manager. She’s been at CLI since 2012, and after two years, she started managing our Translations Department. She loves what she does, and we’re so lucky to have her on our team.
Here is Katie, in her own words.
Tell us a little bit about what you do here at CLI.
Katie: I am the Translations Department manager, so I oversee all of the day-to-day operations for document translations and our Braille and audio/video transcription services. This covers anything from customer relations, vetting translators, quality control, invoicing, collections, etc. In addition to my administrative duties, I also do a lot of project management, working with customers and connecting them with translators.
What’s your favorite part about working in document translations?
Katie: I absolutely love working in document translations, especially getting to work so closely with our clients. There’s a lot more one-on-one contact with them, so we get to know our regular customers really well. Translation projects can take days, weeks, and even months to complete, depending on the scope, and we get to work together with our clients to accomplish their translation goals.
Our clientele and the types of projects that we help with are so diverse, too! Every project has a story and a purpose, and there’s a real need for the work that we do every day.
We also get to see how much companies really care about connecting directly with either their customers or with their employees. It’s great to see them making sure that their employees have access to what they need in language, and that they strive to better serve their clients who don’t speak English.
There are a lot of companies out there who are working hard to accomplish that, and it’s actually really promising and encouraging to see so many people who care about language access.
Why do you think interpreters and translators are so important?
Katie: I think it may be important to first clarify the difference between interpreters and translators. Interpreters work verbally, so they’re interpreting back and forth in the moment, on demand. Translators, on the other hand, are working with written documentation. The terms are often used interchangeably, but it’s actually a completely different skill set.
Interpreters are very important when you need something immediately or, for some of the rarer languages, when literacy rates are extremely low. In these cases, a translator is not necessarily going to be able to help. That’s where having access to an interpreter is very important, because they can have a conversation with a limited English proficient individual in their language.
Discharge instructions are a good example of why translators are so important. Providers need to be able to give people something to take home that they can reference back to later after a hospital visit. This is where a translator steps in and can provide that written documentation.
Translators also take on a certain amount of added liability when they work on a document. It’s very important that they’re written and translated correctly.
Another important thing to point out, and what I think some people don’t always understand, is that translators are not just people who are bilingual or multilingual; these are actual professionals who really know what they’re doing. Linguists may have a degree in their language, or have additional training and certifications, not including years of practice and experience. These are hard-working, trained specialists with industry experience. They know the specific terminology needed and are trained to communicate effectively and accurately in both languages.
I always tell people that even though I am a native English speaker, I would not recommend hiring me to edit a book. I know English very well, I am perfectly fluent, but I do not know all of the grammar rules, syntax, or any other thing that would be pertinent to writing or editing a book. I would not be able to do the same quality job that a trained, professional editor would do. That’s a very similar comparison to the importance of using a professional translator or interpreter versus a bilingual speaker.
What is something people are surprised to learn about when you tell them you work in the language services industry?
Katie: That there is one! It’s kind of a hidden industry to some people. It’s everywhere but, unless you need to use it personally or you work in an industry that interacts with people who don’t speak English, you may have no idea that it exists!
When someone new asks me about my job and what it entails, I enjoy telling them about all of the interesting things we get to do. And that it’s not just healthcare. We work in legal, finance, insurance, education, and refugee and immigrant community organizations, and the need in social services is huge.
Helping people find their voice is definitely one of the most rewarding things about this job. Another part is educating people about these services. I love it when you can see the wheels turning in their brains and they get it. I often hear things like, “Wow, I had no idea, but that makes total sense,” and, “Oh, of course people would need that!” That’s a good feeling.
What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever gotten?
Katie: Without a doubt my most unusual request, and personal favorite, was from a psychic who had a YouTube channel. There were what had to be hundreds of videos of séances, and times where he would channel spirits and speak in other languages. He didn’t know if these were earthly languages or spiritual, otherworldly languages, but he wanted to get the videos transcribed. He thought it would be cool to include a transcript of what he was saying along with each video for his followers.
We handled the request seriously and professionally, because who knows! We may have been able to help, and I wanted to know so badly if he was actually speaking another language. I didn’t know if there was any way that we could, but I checked with our transcriptionists, and unfortunately there was simply no surefire or cost-effective way to do so.
Since he had no idea what language he was speaking, the process of identifying the language alone would have been expensive, with no guarantee that it would be successful. I ended up recommending that he reach out to his multilingual followers, or people online, to see if anyone recognized any of the languages he may have been speaking.
Every year, the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) picks a theme to celebrate International Translation Day. This year’s theme is “Translation: Promoting Cultural Heritage in Changing Times.” What are your thoughts on this theme?
Katie: I love this theme. Language is something that’s so innate to who we are and how we express ourselves, and I think it provides a deeper connection to one’s culture than just participating in a festival, celebration, or in a specific holiday. It’s also often a way for first- and second-generation Americans to connect with their family’s heritage. In fact, [a shared] language is sometimes the only way for them to communicate with their parents, grandparents, or other family members.
As a descendent of Polish immigrants, I love my Polish heritage, but at the same time, I do feel a certain disconnect because I don’t speak the language. Even though my family is only a few generations in, the language was lost a long time ago.
My grandmother was a native Polish speaker but had to learn English in order to go to kindergarten. Growing up in the ’50s, her parents moved away from the rest of the family in Chicago to the West Coast. Where they lived, there wasn’t a Polish community for them to be part of, so my grandmother ended up just speaking English the rest of her life. Because of this, my mom didn’t grow up speaking Polish and neither did I. While I can say that I’m Polish, there’s a part of me that feels like it’s a technicality since I don’t speak the language. Given how close I am to my Polish ancestry, I feel like I should, like I’m missing what would have been my native language had my family not immigrated. While I’m incredibly proud of them for doing so, and grateful that they did, I do feel a bit of a disconnect. There’s something about being able to speak the language that definitely gives you a stronger sense of cultural identity.