The Major Difference Between Interpretation and Translation

Access2Interpreters has been serving the Columbus area for over 13 years. We have staff trained in interpretive services for over 250 languages and dialects, and translation services for over 90 languages. While many people use the words interpretation and translation interchangeably, there is one major difference between them: interpretation is performed verbally while a translation is written.

When you look beneath this simple difference, you will find that the skills and knowledge for each are vastly different. It’s important to have the right person when you need to transform words and ideas clearly from one language into another.


Translation is done via the written word and makes use of reference guides and dictionaries to ensure accuracy. Translation is usually a one-way system, with the translator typically translating from a source text into their primary language.

Although a translator does not need to have spoken fluency in a language, they do need to have an in-depth knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, spelling, colloquialisms, and cultures of both languages. Capturing meaning and hidden depth in a literary or academic paper requires finesse and thoughtfulness. Translating technical documents requires precise knowledge and analytical skills. All translators should be subject matter experts in the type of text they are translating.



Interpretation is the act of translating verbally from one language to another. It is performed on the spot and without the use of reference materials or dictionaries. Interpretation requires elevated fluency in both languages. There are two types of interpretive services.

One type of interpretive services is simultaneous interpretation. This occurs when an interpreter repeats each sentence immediately after it is spoken. Not only must the interpreter translate the sentence in their mind, accounting for cultural references and technical language, but they must also speak it out clearly and audibly. On top of that, they need to be listening for the next sentence and interpreting that mentally, all while speaking the previous sentence. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is.

Consecutive interpretation occurs when the speaker communicates several sentences or paragraphs at once before stopping to let the interpreter translate. A consecutive interpreter must be an excellent note taker as it is difficult for even the best minds to memorize whole paragraphs of lines to repeat to an audience.

Neither translating nor interpreting are about literal word-for-word conversion of one language to another. Both require an understanding of subject matter, a high degree of skill and proficiency in writing, listening, and speaking.


If you need translation or interpretive services in Columbus, call us today!

Interpreter Spotlight: Christopher Farhat

Interpretation can be a challenging but rewarding field of work.  Many of our interpreters work with us part-time, on top of their other responsibilities, such as parenting, or classes.  Others, like Christopher, plan on making a full-fledged career out of the interpreting profession.  Although Christopher has only been with us for a few months, he has already established a reputation as one of our hardest-working and most ambitious interpreters.  I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about how his time with Access is helping him work toward his future goals.  Check out what he had to say:

Q: How did you learn about Access, and why did you choose to work with us?

A: I already knew about the company through my mother, who already had been working for Access as an interpreter since September 2016.  First and foremost, I thought it would be a great avenue to get into the linguistic field.  I really like languages.  I’ve had a strong interest in languages since I was a kid, but I didn’t know how to get into a profession where I could use them actively.  Straight out of high school, things were rough, and even though I was consistently working (in great positions too!), I would not have been able to keep it up my entire life.  In the midst of this chaos, my mother made the suggestion that I should go to Spain for a year and learn the language thoroughly, and then I could become an interpreter.  So, I went to Spain for seven and a half months, where I lived with family, and really focused on learning the language, as well as field specific terms, just to be an interpreter, and so far, it’s been working out much better than anything else.

Q: Is there a history of working in language services in your family?

A: Almost none of my family actually lives in the United States.  Most of them live in Israel, Spain, or France.  Working in language services is something that’s specific to my immediate family, but it stems from a history of exposure to other languages, and a simple need to communicate.

 Q: Were you raised bilingually?

A: Not at home, but my siblings and I would go back and forth between Spain, France, and Israel every summer as children.  My extended family there may have been able to speak a little English, but mainly spoke Spanish, French, Arabic, and Hebrew.  So, as I just stated about my family, there’s just been a long history of exposure to languages, and spending extended periods of time around them definitely gave me a strong exposure to and attraction towards languages.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the field, and what strategies do you use to overcome them?

A: For me, the diversity of assignments can be a little challenging.  Not necessarily the diversity in itself, but more so the fast-paced switching of gears mentally when getting out of one assignment and jumping right into a completely different situation immediately after.  You could be finishing up a simple school assessment one second and find yourself rushing to the emergency room to talk about something really serious the next, and you have to have all that vocabulary on-hand, to use at a moment’s notice. 

Additionally, you could go into a situation that may seem completely routine and easy but then turns immediately into something extremely serious, or even great. You could encounter Drugs, abuse, life expectancy issues, or even, on the other end, things such as deliveries, getting to tell people for the first time about their child, or delivering great surgery results.  Those are the things that make the job extremely difficult, yet what make the job more than worth it.

For me, the best strategy to be sure that I’m always ready for anything is constant preparation: Constantly drilling myself and expanding my vocabulary, so that eventually the words that I only have to deal with occasionally now become second nature.  That definitely helps with simultaneous interpretation.  Simultaneous interpretation takes a certain mindset.  There’s no time to process, it almost becomes automatic, like you enter a different level of consciousness, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m talking, because you have to focus on everything else being said in the room, and you can’t break that focus to search for words.  Really, just training yourself and reviewing new words every day and night goes a long way.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to become an interpreter?

A: Make sure that not only you really understand your languages, but that you also understand other people’s language.  By that I mean, sure, you need to constantly study and know your terms, but it’s more than that.  You need to portray things according to individuals and the setting you’re in.  You become the voice of whoever you’re interpreting for, and really understanding that person goes a long way toward accurately conveying their language.  The challenging part about this is that you have to deduce all of that only having had a moment’s interaction with a person. You have to understand everything from the language to the culture from that small interaction, and it is absolutely essential that you do understand the culture to interpret effectively.

Most of your experience with this comes from the field.  Besides that, constant training is really the most effective method of preparation for becoming an interpreter, and even after you become an interpreter, it’s an ongoing process.  You’re always in a constant state of learning and training, which never really ends.  That is one of the things I love most about being an interpreter.  Language is one of the things where you can constantly get better at and learn things about, even in your native tongue.  It’s how you become a better interpreter.

Q: What are your long-term goals for working in interpretation?

A: Well first, I want to become medically certified.  There are great resources to get one started and completed with certifications.   I, after that, want to get legal certification, in order to diversify my experiences.  These are shorter term goals though. 

Eventually, I want to get involved in UN interpreting, but for now that’s further down the road.  UN Interpreting is a fairly specific niche, but it is top of the line. The hardest, most elite, and on point interpreting is done at the UN.  The interpretation which takes place there could literally start wars if not executed correctly. While the cases there may not always involve extremely delicate topics, the consistency and accuracy necessary remains the same. That’s what I want to push myself to do.

To me, interpretation is an ongoing process of self-improvement, and being able to diversify the work I do now and get more experience across different fields is just a step toward achieving my larger goals later on.

Q: What are some of the most valuable skills you have learned so far during your time with access?

A: Like I said, I studied specifically for this, to become an interpreter.  But even after that, there is a jump from being fluent in a language, to using it for interpretation.  There is a major shift toward being accurate in the time frame given.  That’s something you can only practice and get better at in the field.  I, of course, was already fluent before starting with Access, but after starting, things just changed.  When I lived in Spain, people would talk to me in Spanish or English, and I would always just reply in Spanish by default.  Even then, since starting with Access, my comfort with the language has grown immensely.  

Q: Do you have any other final commentary you would like to share?

A: I just want to say, I’m enthusiastic about interpreting.  Even if I work all day and all night, I would never say “I hate my job”.  I would say that interpreting is easy, but hard.  I get paid to talk to people.  It’s awesome!  I love to talk to people.  As an interpreter, you have to be on top of it all the time.  It’s tough.  There can be no hesitation.  But this is what I love to do.  Although you can’t get very personal with people, I get the opportunity to meet people all the time with different experiences.  Being able to touch different cultures, it’s one of the best things about interpreting.

Christopher isn’t joking about working all day and all night either!  He is one of our most active interpreters, and often volunteers to take emergency assignments overnight and during the weekends.  Working as a freelance contractor gives our interpreters the flexibility to work as much or little as they want.  If you are inspired by Christopher’s story, and are interested in joining our team of interpreters, please head over to our “Interpreter Application” page and submit the form so we can get you in to the office for an interview session!

Mother’s Day Around the World

Mother’s Day Around the World

Muotermother. Mater. Mētēr. Mātṛ. Madre. Mère. Mama. These are just a few of the many ways “mother” is said around the world. Mother’s Day is traditionally a day to celebrate moms, mother-figures, and true female mentors with thoughtful gifts and loving words of gratitude. This year in the United States, Mother’s Day will be celebrated on May 13th, a tradition celebrated every year on the 2nd Sunday of May.


The American celebration of Mother’s Day in its modern form stemmed from Anna Jarvis, a female activist who founded “Mother’s Day Word Clubs” to help teach local women how to properly care for children. She later organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day” to encourage reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers. Just a few years later in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson announced Mother’s Day as an official holiday. Today, Americans celebrate their mothers and mother-figures with flowers, chocolate, candy, special gifts and meals shared with family members. Mothers are not just honored throughout the United States, but worldwide, as well. Here’s how Mother’s Day traditions are celebrated in 5 other countries:


Fête des Mères

In France, Mother’s Day celebrations mirror those of the United States, where revelers bestow cards and flowers upon their mother-figures and share family dinners. In 1950, a French law established the fourth Sunday in May as “la fête des mères.”



In China, Mother’s Day traditions coincide with filial piety, an ancient Chinese virtue that stresses the importance of respect towards parents and elders. More generally, people in China practice filial piety by being good to and taking care of one’s parents, while also practicing good conduct towards parents and strangers alike to honor their family and ancestors. The holiday is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, when festivities, including gift giving, occur.



Queen Sirikit, Thailand’s current queen and greatest mother-figure, is honored and celebrated in August, which is the month of her birthday. Many traditional Thai celebrations and festivities occur during this month to honor the Queen and all mothers in Thailand. Fun fact: the Thai go-to gift for mothers is a Jasmine plant.


የእናቶች ቀን

While Ethiopia officially celebrates Mother’s Day on the same day as the United States, this country has another even more popular holiday celebrating motherhood, called Antrosht. This multi-day celebration occurs during the fall, when families gather to sing songs and host large feasts.


Día de la Madre

Mexican traditions take Mother’s Day very seriously. In 2012, Manuel Gutierrez, president of the National Association of Restaurateurs, declared Mother’s Day the busiest day of the year for Mexican restaurants. While flowers, food and celebrations are a must, the day also typically includes lots of music, singing, and Mariachi bands, who serenade mothers with the song “Las Mañanitas.”

Spring Traditions from Around the World

Spring Traditions from Around the World

Plunging temperatures, gray skies and snow flurries have us dreaming of Spring, and it can’t come soon enough. It’s true, Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s beloved groundhog, saw his shadow this year and quickly retreated back into his hole to brace an additional six weeks of winter weather. By tradition, had he not seen his shadow, he would have predicted an early spring. Only in America would we allow a legendary groundhog to predict the weather every second day of February, more commonly known as Groundhog’s Day. Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted a longer winter this year, but that won’t stop us from celebrating Spring traditions as seen around the world.

Thailand – The Songkran Water Festival

The Songkran (Sanskrit word for astrological passage) Water Festival marks the Thai new year (April 13-April 15), where people flock to the streets to participate in water fights. The throwing of water, in fun and friendly ways, is a traditional sign of respect, well-wishing and the washing away of bad luck. The more water, the better!

Scotland – Whuppity Scoorie

In Lanark, Scotland, children run laps around the town’s bell, known as the Kirk, on the first day of March until the clock strikes 6PM, which symbolizes the break of silence during desolate winter days. This tradition is so old that its origin is still unknown. Some believe Whuppity Scoorie came from a festival that was intended to rid of winter or evil spirits, while others believe it celebrates longer days that allow children to play outside longer.

Bosnia – Čimburijada

Crack an egg at the crack of dawn with Bosnia’s spring tradition, Čimburijada. Translated to the festival of scrambled eggs, thousands congregate in Zenica, Bosnia every March to celebrate the arrival of the spring season. An egg symbolizes new life and March symbolizes a new season; therefore, mass amounts of eggs are cooked and served to those who come together to share a meal.

Japan – Hanami

We typically associate the spring season with the blooming of flowers and that’s exactly how the Japanese celebrate spring with Hanami. Hanami is Japanese for flower viewing and is an annual tradition of enjoying the blooming of foliage, especially the Cherry Blossoms, after the winter weather subsides. A spectacular and rare sight, the announcement of Hanami is carefully observed, since the blossoms only last a week or two. Said to have begun in the late 8th century, the event was used to welcome in the new year’s harvest and marked the beginning of the rice planting season.

Poland – Marzanna

The welcoming of spring is celebrated in dramatic fashion in Poland. Dolls, called Marzanna, are made of straw and decorated to symbolize the cold, dreary winter. The dolls are then paraded through the streets as they make their way to a river or other body of water. The dolls, are then tossed into the water and drowned. The drowning of the Marzanna symbolizes the end of winter’s wrath.

Adapting Your Content When Marketing to Different Cultures

Adapting Your Content When Marketing to Different Cultures

Not only do you have to contend with translation from one language to another, you also have to bear your audience’s cultural norms in mind. For instance, what works when talking to an audience in the UK may not work when talking to an audience in other English speaking countries. Likewise, what works for a metropolitan French audience might not work for a Canadian French speaker.

This is a challenge for businesses and content creators alike, but you shouldn’t be deterred. 56.2% of consumers say the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price. Clearly, translated content can be hugely beneficial, but your business must know how to adapt to the needs of different audiences from different cultures.

Don’t rely on machine translation

A report titled Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: Why Language Matters, found that consumers were significantly more likely to buy a product if they had pre-purchase information available in their own language. The good news is that is well worth the hassle. By translating content you will reach a wider audience, and in turn, develop stronger relationships with these new audiences.

Talking to people in their language, and on their level, shows that your business cares, allowing you to build a rapport with your target audience. But translating your content from one language to another can be fraught with potential pitfalls and pratfalls for big and small businesses alike. Big businesses can fall short due to hubris or poor research. Small businesses, put off by the cost of professional translation and proofreading services, go for the cheaper option of having a machine translation, which is often a disastrous move.

That’s because online translation tools are not yet developed enough to understand the subtlety and intricacies of language. Your business is talking, and ultimately selling or working with, people. Conversation is a complex and, above all, human process. Writing for The Huffington Post, Nataly Kelly argues that “Perhaps when machines are the ones doing the buying, they’ll be less picky about language. For now, humans are still the ones opening their wallets, and humans are a strange bunch, with very real and emotional reactions to language.”

Why editing and proofreading content is so important

The main objective of having an editor and a proofreader is to improve the translation so that it reads as if it was written in the target language. There is often confusion over the different role an editor and a proofreader play when translating content. This is tackled by in a blog on the subject.

They state that whilst an editor prioritises terminology, proofreaders will perform final checks that the content is accurate, suitable and makes sense. Sometimes businesses can call editing proofreading and vice versa, however when it comes to translated content, distinguishing the two is important.

Global Voices, who offer translation and proofreading services, state that proofreaders offer an important “second professional opinion and cultural consultation” before giving the translator the final approval. Proofreading isn’t just about checking for grammatical errors, it also helps ensure that the text reads in a way that the target audience can relate to, andthat you will avoid any accidental cultural insensitivity.

Why localisation is vital when marketing to foreign audiences

Often when translating or working in another language, businesses assume that they simply need to translate the text from English into the language in question. However, this is a risky assumption to make.

For instance, the audience in two different Spanish-speaking countries can be very different. There is no greater example of marketing gone awry than Braniff Airlines 1987 “Fly in Leather.” campaign. The slogan, designed to show of the airlines new leather seats, worked well with a Spanish translation, ‘Vuela en Cuero, in most of Latin America. However, in Mexico vuela en cuero was generally understood to mean “Fly naked.”

Not only does the localisation of content mean that you avoid any embarrassing situations, it can also have positive effects for your brand. Doing this will help you be competitive in the local economy you are wishing to expand into, and build brand loyalty. That’s why localisation is so important for businesses; not only will you be able to talk to more consumers than previously possible, there’s also a greater chance that they will listen to your message.

Reposted from Home Business Magazine. Read the original post here.

How to Say Happy Valentine’s Day in Various Languages

How to Say Happy Valentine's Day in Various Languages

Each year on February 14th, lovers of all types including friends, family members, spouses, and significant others exchange greeting cards, candied hearts, and flower bouquets to express their love and affection for one another. While Valentine’s Day is not a public or official holiday in any country, it is celebrated around the world. There are many legends detailing the story of Saint Valentine and they all have one thing in common: they all speak to his sympathetic, heroic and romantic characteristics.

Roman legends believe Saint Valentine to have been a priest in the Catholic Church, who was martyred for his sanctioning of secret marriages during the third century. Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage for young men because he believed single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children. Saint Valentine believed differently and continued to perform marriages for young loved ones in secret resulting in dire penalties.

Other legends claim that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians escape the harsh Roman rule. Prior to his death, he sent one last love letter while in prison signed “From your Valentine,” an expression still widely used today.

While the extent of truth behind these legends may vary, so do the ways in which we greet each other. Impress your Valentine this year by learning how to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” in different languages.

  • Arabic – (if speaking to a male) Eid hob sa’eed, habibi; (if speaking to a female) Eid hob sa’eed,habibti, عيد حب سعيد
  • Dutch – Fijne Valentijnsdag
  • French – Joyeuse Saint Valentin
  • German – Alles Liebe zum Valentinstag
  • Indonesian – Selamat Hari Kasih Sayang
  • Italian – Buon San Valentino
  • Japanese – Shiawasena Barentaindee,
  • Portuguese – Feliz Dia dos Namorados
  • Mandarin – Qingren jie kuaile,
  • Spanish – Feliz día de San Valentín
  • Swedish – Glad Alla hjärtans dag
  • Thai – Sook San Wan Valentine,

How do you say it in your language?

A2I Presents Cultural Training to Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities


A2I Presents Cultural Training to Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities

Access 2 Interpreters held a Cultural Training session with Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities (FCBDD) in Westerville on January 31, 2018. The presentation was conducted by Access’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Stein and Interpreter Trainer Dr. Ali Al Safi.

The first segment examined the interpreter’s role during the interpretation session. This section reinforced the protocols interpreters follow in the field. This part of the presentation also clarified the interpreter’s boundaries before, during, and after the interpretation session.

The second segment focused on the cultural traditions of several Limited English Proficiency populations that live in Columbus. Stein and Al Safi discussed how family, religion, and education affect social etiquette and communication between people. This part of the presentation provided insight and advice for bridging the gaps between social and cultural barriers.

“Access 2 Interpreters has a great reputation in the Central Ohio area for providing quality interpretation services. However, many clients are unaware of our other great services such as facilitating Provider Training Seminars like we conducted yesterday. FCBDD got tremendous insight into the legal basis, duties, and expectations of the interpreters we send out into the field. Furthermore, we were able to tailor the seminar specifically to identify and help with the nuances of the in-home appointments that the caseworkers at FCBDD encounter,” said Stein.

“Columbus is a diverse city with approximately 70 different spoken languages, and interpreters help families and clients effectively communicate with one another. However, most clients struggle with how to approach the cultural differences between their staff and the families they serve. We believe that the information we provided was helpful to FCBDD. We received a lot of positive feedback regarding the material we covered during the seminar,” added Al Safi.

Access 2 Interpreters can provide similar training seminars to its clients upon request. Each event is specifically tailored to the particular needs of the hosting organization.

A2I Spotlight: Interpreter Sylma E.

A2I Spotlight: Interpreter Sylma E.

We have a very strong interpreter workforce here at Access—we can fill interpretation requests for over 70 languages in the Columbus area.

This feature piece is really about Sylma E., a Spanish interpreter who has been with Access for about 8 years. I had an opportunity to ask Sylma about her work in the interpretation services field. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: Why did you choose to work with Access?

A: I had a career in banking for many years. When my father passed away suddenly, I brought my elderly mother to live with my husband and me. For a couple of years, I tried to balance a full-time job and my mother’s needs, which was really hard. I decided to quit my job and become a Spanish interpreter with Access. I did my research, and Access was my top choice! I met Yana, and the rest is history! I love the flexibility I have as an interpreter. I have also made lasting, professional friendships with several of my business clients. All-in-all, this is the perfect job for me!

Q: What do you like about working as an interpreter?

A: I love the fact that I can set my own schedule.  I also get to work with long-time business clients and meet new ones. I take pride in representing my company and establishing lasting business contacts.

Q: What kinds of assignments do you take? 

A: I get assignments for medical, legal, public service, schools and such.  

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to become an interpreter? 

A: I would advise someone looking to become an interpreter to study vocabulary on a regular basis.  We are given many different appointment types, and we must be prepared to know the pertinent vocabulary as best as we can.

Q: Would you recommend our services to potential interpreters or businesses? Why?

A: I would totally recommend Access 2 Interpreters to potential businesses. Yana and the team have become a force to be reckoned with in the interpretation/translation field. The orientation program is on point and extensive. As an interpreter, I feel like I am part of the family. My skills are valued. I am treated with respect. Being able to choose my own schedule is key. The exposure to all kinds of industries is immeasurable.

If you are interested in our services, check our “Contact” page. If you would like to learn more about becoming an interpreter, go to our “Careers” page for more information.

Building Successful Relationships with Clients and Vendors

Building Successful Relationships with Clients and Vendors

In the 22 years I have been in business, I’m most proud of the fact that I have some clients whom I have serviced since the company’s inception. Through recessions, demands for cheaper translation, economic pressure, and the machine translation movement—all threatening to either force me to change my detailed process or go out of business—I’ve managed to keep it all intact. I attribute a large part of this success to the relationships I form with my clients and vendors.

I started as a freelance translator, then expanded to a boutique-style company. I have always strived to follow the golden rule of treating others as I would like to be treated. I write this from the perspective of both the employer of my independent contractors and as a vendor to my corporate clients. I also maintain the viewpoint of a translator, which allows me to run the business within a scope of excellence grounded in reality.

Below are some of my fundamental practices that create and ensure successful business relationships. Without these basics, I believe doing business can be arduous and downright unpleasant. And since our profession takes the majority of our days and lives, and we’re often on our own at our computers, it’s worth investing our time and effort to ensure that the time we spend cultivating relationships with our clients is the best it can be.


  1. Regardless of what’s happening in my personal life, I always maintain a professional attitude with my vendors and clients. Hearing about someone’s personal problems in a working environment doesn’t apply, unless it’s vital information that may affect the work in any way.
  2. I always keep basic manners in place. This includes responding quickly, paying attention to detail, using professional salutations and closings in all correspondence (regardless of how the client or other vendors/colleagues do it). Doing so shows respect and adherence to professional values.
  3. I maintain a professional attitude that does not vary, regardless of any circumstance—too busy, not enough work, sick, etc.

As a vendor, my goal is to be a team member, and that requires good com­mu­nication, respect, and attention to detail.


As an employer, it’s not my place to tell independent contractors who work with me how to run their businesses or do their work. My intention by sharing this is to offer some insight into ways in which the business experience and the outcome of their efforts can be improved.

  1. Typographical errors in résumés or correspondence: This does not reflect on attention to detail or professionalism in an industry where this is imperative.
  2. Delays in getting back to me with more information or when filling out legal documents to be set up as a vendor: It tells me they’re too busy for me and not interested in new work.
  3. A brusque or unprofessional manner: I like to talk to potential vendors to find out as much information as possible. I also invite them to ask me any questions. Skype calls are even better to get a sense of a person with whom you’ll be dealing before committing to bringing them into the team.
  4. Delays in sending invoices: Slow admin is not a good sign of a vendor taking care of the business aspect of the relationship. It reflects disorganization or lack of value for their own work.
  5. Invoices that are unclear or incomplete: This adds work on our end, which violates the rule of adding traffic to a busy client’s plate. (In this case, it’s my plate as their client.)


  1. Have professional and personal backups so that if an emergency of any kind arises, the client’s needs and delivery are always met.
  2. Make sure that all administrative points are being handled (e.g., billing, invoicing, payments, answering phones, and responding to e-mail quickly).
  3. Have a full understanding of what the client’s needs are and how they change over time. This usually involves asking questions and having a conversation. I also keep notes on specific client requests and preferences, and these are added to the guidelines for that client.
  4. Always meet or beat deadlines. It’s up to me to ensure the schedule is doable, including a cushion for unexpected events.
  5. Do not create or pass on any confusion regarding the project to clients or vendors. Intercept any that occur and handle them quickly.
  6. Do not change your original estimate once it has been agreed upon. Once we have submitted an estimate (based on the final files), we never change the cost unless elements not initially considered get added at a later time. Let the client know in advance that this possibility exists. However, if I go over budget, that’s my problem, not my client’s.
  7. Take the burden of translation off the client’s busy plate. Before and during the translation process, compile clear questions before sending them and offer a solution wherever possible.
  8. Always look out for your client. While the client is technically responsible for approving the final document, watch their back and ensure what gets delivered is thoroughly approved internally before submitting a review.
  9. Maintain speed of service and communication. This is vital. Keep the client and vendors updated as needed. This ensures coordination and shows respect for all concerned.
  10. Ensure that payment processes and schedules are solid and stable, both as a vendor and a client.


    1. Transparency and Responsibility: Being transparent and taking responsibility for mistakes (after fully understanding the client’s concerns) is vital. Offer a solution that improves the process if the issue stemmed from the client’s side. Or assure the client that this issue has been looked at and that measures have been taken on your end to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The idea is to confront, address, and adjust processes in a speedy fashion to avoid the same issue reoccurring in the future.I always take full responsibility for any error or mistake. “The client is never wrong” maxim applies, and if the relationship becomes abusive (when it becomes apparent that we’re going to lose working with this client no matter what we do), I have the power to end the relationship.I select my clients as carefully as I select my vendors. I deal only with polite, professional, reasonable, and competent people who appreciate the value of what we deliver. I avoid problems with both clients and vendors by selecting them correctly. Although the majority of my clients in the past 22 years in business have come to me by referral, I still select with whom I choose to work. That referral works well in both directions. Additionally, I encourage vendors to share the names of colleagues they have worked well with so they can be considered to join the team.
    2. Quality and Team Effort: As an employer, I only deal with consummate and experienced professionals who can work as part of a team with the intent to create something of the highest quality for the client. Self-centered individuals don’t fit our paradigm. In addition to qualifications and competence, the ability to value and enjoy the team effort is necessary for this profession. It’s the team that accomplishes the magic. Team effort is what ultimately creates a better product for our clients. That team includes the client, our staff, and any vendor involved. I don’t accept or pass on deadlines to my vendors unless they’re actually doable while maintaining our strict quality assurance process. Having been a translator myself, I understand the process very well.
    3. Loyalty: A relationship with a client should be based on loyalty. We have their trust that we will take care of their translation needs. But this long-term investment should never be taken for granted by either party. I don’t abuse my capital (as in goodwill, trust, a strong relationship)—not with clients nor with vendors. Each job is an opportunity to demonstrate our abilities and skills and empower our clients with the best translation of their documentation. A job should be done with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity.
    4. Personal Touch: In an industry where we rarely get to meet our clients or vendors face-to-face, building a relationship in other ways is vital. Among the things I do to lend a personal touch include:
      • Making time to Skype with vendors about important project issues.
      • Visiting clients once or twice a year.
      • Personalizing or creating gifts I know will benefit or be enjoyed by my clients and vendors.
      • Publishing monthly articles (also translated into Spanish) about business, culture, and finance on our website that may be of interest in their everyday lives.
      • Baking homemade goods for the holiday season and hand-delivering them where possible.

      In short, I find my own way of connecting that’s authentic and personable. All these points, I believe, are what make my relationships with clients unique and lasting. It also makes for a fulfilling life!

Mary Jo Smith-Obolensky is the founder and chief executive officer of Dynamic Doingness, Inc., a multimedia translations boutique that specializes in financial, marketing, technical, legal, and human resources documentation. Before opening her own company, she worked in media and various other industries. Born and raised in Colombia in a bilingual environment, she got her university degree in England. Contact:

Read the original article from The ATA Chronicle here.

Breaking Silence: What Interpreters Need to Know About Victim Services Interpreting


Breaking Silence: What Interpreters Need to Know About Victim Services Interpreting

When interpreting for victims of trauma, the greatest gift you can give to the survivor is letting his or her voice be heard.

First, the good news. This past July marked the release of an innovative, in-depth training program to prepare interpreters to work with survivors of violent crime, with a strong focus on domestic violence and sexual assault. A set of training materials—Breaking Silence: Interpreting for Victim Services—that includes a manual, workbook, and glossary, has also just been published on the subject.1 Together, these free resources show you how to perform victim services interpreting with a “trauma-informed” perspective.

The Breaking Silence program was developed through a partnership between the District of Columbia’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants and Ayuda, a nonprofit agency serving immigrants and refugees in the DC metro area. (You can download the Breaking Silence training manual, workbook, and glossary for free at:

An Emerging Specialization: Victim Services Interpreting

Victim services interpreting is part of the larger field of trauma-informed interpreting. Anyone who performs legal or community (including medical) interpreting can benefit by learning about this area because almost any interview in these fields can entail exposure to trauma—often without warning.

When a survivor cries, goes silent, or shares horrific details about a crime, it can create difficulties for the interpreter. The temptation to comfort the victim and overstep professional boundaries is huge. However, such “helpful” behaviors from the interpreter can damage or delay the survivor’s recovery. The information contained here shows interpreters how to be successful in this field while supporting survivor autonomy and avoiding re-traumatization of the crime victim.

Challenges of Victim Services Interpreting

You arrive at the hospital in the middle of the night to interpret for a 16-year-old rape victim. The assignment lasts five hours.

In that time, you end up interpreting for a police officer, two detectives, a sexual assault nurse examiner, a doctor, a rape survivor advocate, a medical assistant, and others. The victim is asked to describe her rape several times, in chilling detail. She weeps and shrieks. You start to feel nauseated and light-headed. You can’t get the images of the brutal assault out of your mind. At one point as the survivor tells her story you think you might throw up, but you’re afraid to interrupt her. What do you do?

Welcome to victim services interpreting. It’s tough. It can be painful. Yet for many interpreters, it provides some of the most meaningful and fulfilling work they’ll ever do. Since victim services interpreting is a new specialization, interpreters need training to perform it well. The following highlights many of the lessons to be learned from the Breaking Silence program, including the specific challenges facing interpreters who work with victims of crime and trauma survivors.

What Are Victim Services?

The provision of “victim services” began in the 1960s.2 They are defined within U.S. law as services (public or private):

… with a documented history of effective work concerning domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
42 USCS § 139253

In most cities and counties across the U.S., there is a victim assistance network where government, health care, legal, law enforcement, and nonprofit services collaborate to support crime victims in a complex interplay of services with their own professional cultures.

What Are Trauma-Informed Services?

A relatively new field called trauma-informed services encompasses an array of government and private programs that put the victim front and center stage. Trauma-informed services are concerned with the survivor’s healing, recovery, and access to justice. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma-informed programs address trauma in depth and integrate that knowledge into their policies, procedures, practices, and settings.4

Trauma-informed providers receive specialized training to help survivors feel respected, safe, and empowered. In trauma-informed services, we stop asking “What is wrong with this person?” and begin asking “What has happened to this person?”5

Overview of Victim Services Interpreting

From the time victim services became available in the 1960s until today, almost no one thought about interpreters or trained them in victim services interpreting. By 2013, the DC Office of Victim Services (OVS)—which is now the DC Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants—and its Victim Assistance Network (VAN) recognized this as a problem. VAN providers who request interpreters most often appear to work in the areas of domestic violence cases, sexual assault, and child abuse. Yet interpreters can also be needed for:

  • Survivors of torture and war trauma
  • Trauma therapy
  • Police officers
  • Homicide survivors (family members and loved ones of a homicide victim)
  • Fire and rescue
  • Victim compensation services

The District of Columbia lacked interpreters trained to provide this kind of service. As a result, OVS funded a program in 2014 that established the nation’s first Emergency and Victim Services Bank, a unique interpreter service administered by Ayuda, a nonprofit agency providing legal, social, and language services. However, Ayuda could find no training manual or curriculum anywhere in the country to train victim services interpreters.

History of the Breaking Silence Program

Ayuda commissioned my agency, Cross-Cultural Communications (CCC), to create a four-day program for victim services interpreting.

First, a needs assessment and a literature review were conducted. Ayuda set up a focus group and 20 in-depth interviews with service providers, including therapists, lawyers, social workers, advocates, a forensic nurse, a deputy fire chief, a hotline counselor, law enforcement, a disaster response behavioral therapist, and a grief counselor for homicide survivors.

I then recruited three other national specialists to create a curriculum and the training materials with input from VAN and OVS. The four authors of these training materials were national trainers with curriculum development expertise. An American Sign Language interpreter trainer and trauma-informed therapist for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was engaged to review and revise the training materials.

The intent was to make this four-day program freely accessible across the country. The four-day program, entitled Breaking Silence: Interpreting for Victim Services, was piloted three times between 2014 and 2016.

Lessons Learned from Breaking Silence

The needs assessment for the creation of this program highlighted a simple fact: almost every community and legal interpreter confronts trauma in their work. Some of that trauma is extreme and affects interpreters in profound ways. As a result, interpreters are eager, even hungry, for specialized training about interpreting for victims of trauma.

Another lesson learned is that interpreters need guidance to manage their emotions. For example, imagine that you interpret for a domestic violence victim who, against the advice of her advocate, is about to return to the partner who almost killed her. You might want to shout, “Don’t go back!” However, you can’t do that.

Providers interviewed for the Breaking Silence program reported that many interpreters lost control and interjected comments, or told providers such things as, “Is that all you can do?” After hearing traumatic stories, some interpreters broke down and cried. Some couldn’t interpret the grisly details, or softened or edited them. One interpreter spent more than 30 minutes lecturing a victim about domestic violence. Others have advised victims to leave—or stay with—their abusers.

Trauma-Informed Interpreting: Stakes and Benefits

Interpreters for victim services need to understand:

  • The impact of crime on victims
  • What trauma is and its impact
  • Vicarious trauma (discussed below)
  • Domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse
  • How basic interpreter skills (such as mode switching, note-taking, sight translation, and simultaneous interpreting) are used in this field
  • Where community (including medical) interpreting crosses the line into legal interpreting

In addition, the interpreter needs to be keenly alert to the potential impact of his or her unconscious bias. For example, providers noted that some interpreters made facial expressions conveying dismay or disgust when interpreting for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender victims.

Finally, interpreters need to be emotionally prepared for whatever faces them. Some victims giggle, fall silent, or seem calm. Every situation is unpredictable.

Preparing to Interpret for Survivors of Trauma

Here are some examples of how to prepare for tough assignments.

  • Inform yourself as much as possible beforehand.
  • Have boundary rituals (e.g., put on a special bracelet or scarf for assignments that means something to you and offers mental reassurance).
  • Prepare to interpret body parts and terms for violence.
  • Practice interpreting coarse and obscene language in a mirror (to be sure you don’t display discomfort).
  • Establish a “distress” signal with the provider (who can call for a break).
  • Plan for visualization of peaceful imagery.
  • Rehearse deep breathing.
  • Prepare for possible interpreter distress.

Above all, make a conscious decision to display warmth and compassion. According to clinicians, survivors have keen feelers—they sense if you care. Make a conscious decision to care. However, suppress the desire to say kind things. Don’t be the interpreter who touches the victim, hands out tissues, gives legal advice, or says, “It’s okay, you’re safe, speak up!” “You need to share your story with your therapist/lawyer.” “Don’t cry, dear, everything will be all right.”

Finally, try to avoid eye contact while you interpret. Let the survivor build a relationship with the provider—not you—because that relationship is critical for the survivor’s journey to recovery and justice. Remember, your job is to interpret. It’s the greatest gift you can give the survivor: his or her voice.

Vicarious Trauma

Here’s a little quiz. What three things are taken away from a survivor of major trauma? (You’ll find the answer at the end of this article.) In fact, what is trauma? SAMHSA provides this definition:

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.6

Although we know that many survivors experience trauma, most people don’t realize how often interpreters experience vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma (VT) means experiencing or internalizing someone else’s trauma. VT builds up over time through exposure to hearing traumatic stories. It’s a dirty secret that many interpreters are affected by VT, yet few are trained to manage it.7

Interpreters with VT can experience symptoms of trauma, so they should be especially careful to protect themselves. Be careful if you start to notice:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Fear for your safety or your loved ones

If you have experienced any of the above, download the free training manual, workbook, and glossary from the Ayuda website mentioned at the beginning of this article and try to get specialized training.

How to Prevent or Reduce VT

Here are just a few examples of how you can reduce the impact of VT.

Before the Session:

  • Bring or wear a special object (e.g., a stone or necklace). Touch it during the encounter for comfort.
  • Put an elastic band on your wrist. When a survivor speaks of trauma, discreetly snap the elastic.


  • Practice creating imagery in your mind of a “safe place”—a peaceful mountain, beach, or meadow, a beloved person’s face, or even music. During the encounter, distract yourself from traumatic content by visualizing your “safe place.”


  • Engage in a boundary ritual before and after a tough encounter. It could be a phrase, a prayer, a mantra, a song, or a suite of movements.

You should also practice regular relaxation exercises. Do them before and after tough assignments. Many relaxation exercises are available online. Do a search, try some, and find which ones work for you.

During the Session: Here are techniques that can soothe you:

  • Ground yourself: focus on the “here and now” (e.g., the ticking of a clock, air swirling on your cheeks, your feet on the floor).
  • Breathe deeply from the diaphragm.
  • Take a break.
  • Try self-calming strategies:
    • Switch briefly from first to third person (many interpreters do this instinctively).
    • Focus on note-taking.
    • Observe yourself interpreting: monitor your performance.

After the Session: If possible, debrief with the provider. Use any of the “before” practices that help you. Also:

  • Have a written self-care plan in place and consult it.
  • Seek out social supports like family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Utter a prayer or a comforting phrase.
  • Seek out those who share your faith.
  • Engage in a social activity.
  • Exercise.
  • Journal (but protect confidentiality).
  • Share your feelings with someone safe.
  • For intense sessions, perhaps avoid being alone afterwards.
Training Is Key

The preceding was a short journey into the new specialization of victim services interpreting. As mentioned previously, the training materials available from Ayuda can be downloaded for free (see Note 1). They will provide you with in-depth information to increase your knowledge, enhance your performance, and offer a new degree of self-confidence when you interpret for crime victims.

Good luck. Enjoy the journey!

Marjory Bancroft directs Cross-Cultural Communications, a national training agency for community and medical interpreting, with more than 220 licensed trainers in 34 states, Washington, DC, Guam, and six other countries. She has an MA in French linguistics from Quebec and advanced language certificates from universities in Spain, Germany, and Jordan. She has lived in eight countries and studied seven languages. Her career spans interpreting, translation, and teaching. She has authored numerous publications, including The Community Interpreter: An International Textbook. She serves on international committees and was the world project leader for an international interpreting standard.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2016 of The ATA Chronicle. Read it here.