Stacey Romero owns Words Para Todos and is a fluent Spanish/English interpreter and translator. Her journey into the field is interesting!
Like many of us, I work in a couple of different fields, and over the course of my life, several different fields. For the purposes of a coherent spotlight, I’m focusing on the one I expect to be in for the long haul: interpretation and translation! I’ll mostly talk about interpretation here, as I’m only just beginning to advertise translation services. (Quick definitions for clarity: interpretation refers to spoken-to-spoken, while translation refers to written-to-written.)
I somewhat stumbled into this field unintentionally, late, but happily. As a child, I was in love with the idea of speaking multiple languages and arbitrarily decided I’d be a UN interpreter one day. I said I was in love with the idea of speaking multiple languages – but hadn’t yet learned any. When I realized my school system didn’t provide foreign language instruction until high school, that dream sort of faded away. (Got kids? Get them some language classes while they’re little and their brains can accommodate the acquisition so much better than grown-up brains!) In high school, I gobbled up all the language classes I could – all two – French and Spanish. By the time I graduated from high school, I was more fluent in French than Spanish, but by then life was taking me in other directions and I did not put either language into much use. I found that I enjoyed working in health care settings and at that time and in that area I didn’t run into very much Spanish or French.
A decade or so after high school I found myself serving in AmeriCorps, in North Central Washington. I was tutoring elementary school students and wanted to be able to communicate with all of the parents properly, so I took on the process of re-acquiring Spanish. It was slow going for a long time but eventually I got it all back and was able to continue developing it. Spanish will always be a second language for me and I’ll always be learning and improving (I hope!)
After AmeriCorps I returned to working in health care settings, this time with heavy Spanish utilization. From health care I moved into community organizing where, during the 2009/10 campaign for comprehensive immigration reform in the US, the vast majority of my work was conducted in Spanish. This put me in a good position to explore interpreting as a main gig following the organizing campaign. I then gained experience in several different areas of the interpreting & translation industry; I worked for myself as a freelance interpreter; later I worked as the coordinator for a language agency; after that I worked as a staff organizer for the interpreters’ statewide union (Local 1671 of AFSCME/WFSE Council 28 for all my labor geeks out there).
Past that, I spent a couple of years in jobs that didn’t involve much interpreting or translation, and I wasn’t satisfied. I decided to test the waters again, and found that after the time off, and some much-needed changes to industry conditions, interpreting was an even better fit for me than before. About 75% of the interpreting jobs I take are in medical settings. Many patients speak conversational English, but medical appointments can involve uncommon vocabulary and often complicated emotions that can make communication more difficult in both directions. An objective, trained interpreter is an integral part of the health care team when there are any language fluency issues between the providers and the patients. Medical interpreting covers a wide range of specialties in a wide range of settings: primary care, mental health, dental, and other specialists; care provided at home, in traditional clinics and hospitals, long term care facilities and out in the community. My favorite specialties are adult and pediatric mental/behavioral health, pediatric speech and hearing, and adult eye surgery. (I know, right? Interpreters get to learn a little about a lot!)
The other 25% or so of work I do is mostly in schools; ensuring parents and teachers are communicating successfully. This is sometimes for “regular” school conferences, sometimes for special education evaluations and individualized education plans, sometimes for parent volunteer programs – if there’s a need, there’s an interpreter willing to fill it!
One of the biggest on-the-job challenges interpreters face is a lack of understanding of what we do (and don’t do.) I always say that managing an interpreting session is much more difficult than the actual interpretation. With a little coaching, most people get the hang of working with interpreters. Sometimes, unfortunately, we encounter resistance; usually from English-only speakers who have worked with untrained interpreters for a long time or who rarely interact with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals. It can be challenging for some people to adapt to language professionals who employ best-practices techniques and who adhere to a code of ethics – and we have a very limited amount of time to “train” the people who need our skill set to safely and effectively communicate. An “elevator speech” in our mental toolbox, to quickly set out our roles and responsibilities before plunging into the work, is invaluable.
Many people aren’t aware that there are different types of certifications for different situations. A great medical interpreter is not necessarily going to make a great court interpreter, and vice versa. There is also a pervasive misbelief that anyone who speaks two languages possesses sufficient skills to function as an effective interpreter. However, this is something akin to thinking that anyone who frequently posts to their personal Instagram is ready to manage social media for your company!
Along the same lines, people often unintentionally give their business an unprofessional look by simply grabbing a Spanish-speaking employee and asking them to translate signs and business materials. However, speaking a language well is no guarantee that one can write it properly. Just consult your Facebook feed if you’re not sure about that! Translating documents is a separate skill from interpreting; the certifications are different. A fantastic interpreter might not be a great translator, and the reverse is also true. While I personally work more as an interpreter than a translator currently, I am still more comfortable with translation work. As much as I like to talk, I like to write more!
As I mentioned, I’m just now starting to take small translation jobs after quite a few years away. Primarily, these are short official documents people need for travel or immigration purposes, such as certificates of birth, marriage, or death; personal correspondence or declarations from English to Spanish or vice versa. Over the next five years, I would like to flip things around so that I am doing more translation than interpretation. At the moment, my life and business don’t have the capacity to take on large translation jobs, but I’m taking some baby steps now to position myself to make that shift down the road!
When I came to SURGEtacoma I was still doing a very limited amount of interpretation, and conducting my unrelated business work from home. I was struggling with the same things many coworking tenants do. Working from home sounds great inside the head – “Hey, I can get more done at home and at work if I’m not commuting! Hey, I can do three loads of laundry while working!” – but in reality sounds more like a “Get down! Get DOWN! What do you WANT? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” running conversation/screaming match with the cat, and a lot of “Maybe I should start dinner and THEN finish xyz business project…”
SURGEtacoma gives me a relatively distraction-free zone to do my non-interpreting work, as well as my invoicing, scheduling and preparation. Best part about working at SURGEtacoma? Meeting so many cool SURGE tenants and learning about your different businesses and backgrounds – a hundred percent the best part!
Words Para Todos
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