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SUBJECT TO INTERPRETATION
James Plunkett
May 25, 2018 James Plunkett

In this Episode we speak with James Plunkett, a Federally Certified Interpreter and Instructor.


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:04Welcome everyone to subject to interpretation. I am your host and I am very, very happy today to my dearest friends and a very important member of our community of interpreters. Mr James, Mr James and I have known each other for many, many years. I'm not going to say how many, uh, but uh, we grew up together as interpreters and Mr. Plunkett is now a director of a according to our service to language access services, judiciaries in the country and we are so happy and honored that he decided to accept the invitation. So how are you doing James? Hi Christine. Thank you for having me here today. Well, it is, like I said, a pleasure and an honor and I would like you to start telling us a little bit as to how big you end up an interpreter. Was this your plan when you were eight years old?

Speaker 2:1:07No. As a matter of fact, I want them to be a pharmaceutical engineer when I was eight years old. Don't ask me how I came up with that one.

Speaker 1:1:14Yeah, it sounds difficult even the pronunciation at eight years old, but okay.

Speaker 2:1:18Oh, that's a mouthful. Yes, indeed. Well, it all started I guess with the first exposure to interpretation and back in the seventies, my father brought me to an international meeting of the United Nations International Development Fund Organization. That was the first time I ever wore simultaneous interpreting equipment to listen to, to all the speakers through six channels with different languages. I had never heard of my life except English, Spanish and maybe French, and that's how I guess that was a little seed that was planted in me and as years went by I never really thought about interpreting and it came basically out of necessity and also an opportunity. It was kind of serendipity, wasn't it? In a way. It was. I wasn't really looking for. In particular, it found me.

Speaker 1:2:11I think that many of us have had this experience. So when did you actually start interpreting, let's call it professionally because I think many of us that are in this field started interpreting without pay, I must say for our families and friends. Probably when we were kids. So when did you become a professional interpreter?

Speaker 2:2:34That happened in Tampa, Florida, and the mid 1994 I had applied as a contract interpreter with the 13th judicial circuit in Tampa and they kind of filed away my resume. They say they've really didn't need any other Spanish interpreters, so I just found another job doing something else and then all of a sudden they call you back or something. No, I actually had to say goodbye to the other job, I'll put it that way because I wasn't really into sales and I called the courthouse again and they say, sure, come on, come over for an interview. And they had the interview with the staff and we had a nice conversation and that was a, a door being open for an opportunity to be trained with them to observe and then, uh, get my feet wet eventually. And I became a contract interpreter with them

Speaker 1:3:33back in 94. I don't think we have a certification in the state of Florida already kind of testing at the time. Let him. Do you remember?

Speaker 2:3:44That's correct. There was no certification program back then. The consortium for the certification of coding turf putters at the national level had just gotten started. Florida was not a member yet. I think they joined in [inaudible] 95, so the special operations director there, God wind of an exam that could be borrowed from the state of New Jersey and she brought it down to our courthouse system and that's how a whole bunch of us were tested, especially because there were two full time positions open. I applied, of course I pass the test and then I was hired and the rest was history.

Speaker 1:4:26There you go. And you got hired in 1994 a few years ago. You were 15 or something and uh, and here we are many years later still in the field. And Are you still liking it?

Speaker 2:4:41I love it. It's a passion. I, I view it, I, I feel it, I read about it, I talk about it. And, and it's a way also of, of spreading the word, if you will, about the significance of interpreting and how it helps other people deal with their life life

Speaker 1:4:59problems, if you will. Yes, I, I think that, you know, I feel that I'm just going strong and even though I'd been around this business for 30 years or so and I sometimes I feel I'm just getting started. So I think we both say share that passion. What, what do you think you have learned? Something important that you would like to share from this, from being involved in this very interesting endeavor. You know, one never stops learning.

Speaker 2:5:26That's one of the big lessons I've learned in this field. I've been doing it a little less than you, so give or take 22 years or so. Everyday is a learning opportunity. I learned about myself, I learned from others and it also teaches you to be humble because just when you think that you are the top of your game, somebody else comes and teaches you a new lesson and then you have to not like ketchup or compete, but think about and reflect, you know, that's something I add to what I use to my toolbox, if you will. So you try to incorporate it and use it and you get enriched by that experience by learning from others. That's what, that's one of those things that I have learned. Yeah. I think,

Speaker 1:6:13uh, this idea that we are at the top, we have learned everything there is to learn. Definitely does not apply to us. Interpreters never even if we are dedicated to only one field, not the maximum, that some of us kind of dabbling several fields like legal, medical and maybe conference in Germany, which we might get into later on. But what do you think happens to people who want to. What is the misconception about people that say, oh, I want to be an intern? What do you think that they really don't get at the beginning?

Speaker 2:6:48They don't take an honest look at their skills and their, their ability to be measured to determine whether they can do the job, do what it takes or not. That's a big misconception, especially of those who think they are fluent in two languages, that they're truly bilingual. So that's, that's the biggest misconception that sets them up for failure and then they don't know what hit them. You're just like you're walking around and something hits you in and you don't know why, why you fail an exam or your self esteem suffers a blow, but why? Why, why? And it's because unfortunately some of those aspiring interpreters get fooled by other people who cheer them on to pursue the career interpreting just because they spent a weekend or I'm sorry, a month or two in another country speaking that country's language. They come back with a few good words and they impress some friends and family and they're fooled into thinking, well, hey, maybe I can do be a translator when they actually need an interpreter. Big problem already. So that is a problem. They, they don't really, they don't take an academic look at what they have to offer. Maybe they're not even ready, right. I'm maybe sometimes

Speaker 1:8:07even if their language skills are really up to bar still the idea that you can be an interpreter just by virtue of being truly bilingual, fluent in two languages, whatever they want to say. It seems to me that there's also a failure to observe or to take into consideration that in Japanese to a skill that needs to be learned just like any other skill,

Speaker 2:8:31definitely Eggleston. It's not only about learning at scale, but to learn to use it and learn to appreciate the fact that it's a skill. It's not something you pick up from a book. You need to practice it every day, several times until it gets to be second nature. It's like a muscle memory, if you will. Furthermore, I also had my office. I get calls from people who want to be interpreters and they want to offer their services and whatnot, and they claim that with their curriculum they are cut out for the job and what I mean by that is not the skills but the knowledge. So they say, Oh yes, I was a lawyer in my home country and deal with legal terms, or I studied criminology, so I know the legal jargon. I worked with the police or anything related to the legal field. They in their mind thinks they think that's enough of a credential to easily do the job. Of an interpreter and that's not so. And then you also have the other part, the other group of people who are academics on a linguist I teach languages etcetera, etcetera, and they think they're cut out to be interpreters. Well not quite as you know, it's a combination of skills and knowledge. There's also the factor of abilities, you know, endurance and, and all that. But it's knowledge and skills that are key for this type of profession.

Speaker 1:9:54Yes. I think that when I started this business just like everybody else, I thought, well how difficult can it be? I've been interpreting for my mom for a long time, but I think that once you get in the arena and you face the reality that you find out maybe I was a lawyer in my country, but then again, my country's legal system is completely different from this one. So what I thought I knew about the law probably doesn't apply to what I'm facing right now. So let's assume that you hear, you know, I'm sure this probably happens to you every now and then, or maybe quite often that people tell you, hey, you know, my cousin or my brother and my sister and my son, or somebody I know wants to be an interpreter. What advice would you give it?

Speaker 2:10:43I would advise them to, to read about it, to follow the several links that I sent to them by email so they can, they can get to read about it, to watch videos of other interpreters to test their skills against something, start with a start with a baseline test themselves. I give them some hints as to how to measure their ability to interpret something accurately. Have somebody else review it so I give him pointers, don't get me wrong, and I recommend that they sign up for a skill building classes or courses that they take a look at and give it a try. You know that if they feel they are confident, go ahead, test your confidence, see how far you can get. Maybe it is for you, but maybe you can discover that it's not for you. So why not try it?

Speaker 1:11:37Right? I really don't want to sound like we're telling people not to become interpreters. I think it's quite the opposite. I've just, for me, I would like a lot of people to join the full because we definitely need interpreters, especially. Well trained, certified competent interpreters are certainly in high demand everywhere. I know for a fact that the reason many companies that do interpretation or their phone or a video, uh, have a lot of success is because obviously the need is there. Right? And so clearly we want people to, to attend. But I, I'm, I like what you're saying, you're saying, well before you just assume that you can do it, do a little bit of practice, get into it. What do you think it's possible or it's recommended for people that have never done this or I thinking about this to maybe go and attend a couple of court proceedings or things like that.

Speaker 2:12:34By all means, it's good to go in to observe a proceeding, knowing what you're looking for, not just going to a courthouse and see what happens. No, I think the study should be a little more focused, especially if you can give advice to somebody who calls you and asks you this, you know, where do I start? How can I get a feel for what coordinator operating is I at my job? I invite people who call me to observe other interpreters and to you know, listen to them and see if that's the type of atmosphere that they like, that type of environment they would like to go to. Some people are turned off by the type of environment because the courthouse is generally not a happy place to be in. People bring the province, have the problems, so emotionally it may not be what they feel comfortable with.

Speaker 2:13:26Then if even if they feel comfortable with it, then comes the linguistic and interpreting aspect of it. You can ask them challenging. Can you interpret simultaneously under your breath at least so the judge doesn't hear you in the back of the room. Can you interpret it as fluently and fluidly if you will, as those people who are speaking or can you interpret as well as that interpreter over there can interpret so they get a feel for it. Of course you're not going to tell him you've got to be as good as that certified interpreter up there because they don't have the training, so you encourage them, you know, see how you feel about it. Observe, learn, take notes and a little by little start practicing

Speaker 1:14:10and you. You mentioned certified interpreters. What would you. What would be your advice for somebody who is already working as an interpreter and I have the feeling that some of us think that getting certified is the goal and I'm not sure that you agree with that. I certainly think that being certified is an objective and say, what do you think about that? What would you tell people that are already in the field already working?

Speaker 2:14:37I agree. Becoming certified is not the goal. It's not the end to itself. It's objective to reaching your highest possible level in the field and that is achieved, I believe, after you feel really confident, you know that you don't make mistakes or at least your bait make very few mistakes. You are respected by your peers, the judiciary, the judges, attorneys, they, you get the Kudos all the time. Hey, very good. Very good. Especially from those who, who know your language, so he, you're a great interpreter, et cetera. That's the biggest reward you can get. Getting certified is basically getting the, uh, the card to get in the door because a courthouse system may have that requirement. Others don't, but if they do, if you get that certification in urine, so you can use that as a vehicle for employment opportunities, it's not the goal.

Speaker 1:15:39Yeah. I keep on going. Maybe you should consider the day you get your certification from. Consider that your commencement,

Speaker 2:15:47right? Right. It's like a diploma

Speaker 1:15:50your commencement, which means the beginning. Now you're starting, now you're getting in there, but, uh, you told me that you love doing this. You know, we talked about it's difficult. We talk about emotionally draining. We talked about the fact that not always a happy, so how come you like it?

Speaker 2:16:07I like it because I feel useful. I feel I am helpful to other people that need my services. I, I like it. I, I like, um, I like the challenge. I like at my level, in my experience, what I try as a challenge is to reword reformulates the, the target language means that language I'm interpreting into in such a way that I will be more efficient with a number of words I use, I am an interpreter, goes from English into Spanish during the simultaneous interpreting and many people that are listening to us will agree that you tend to use more words in Spanish than in English because the language itself is not as rich technically if you will as English. So my personal challenge is always to be as efficient and as economical as possible. So that's my, my current challenge if you will. That's right.

Speaker 1:17:09They consider that myself. I've had tough situations that I've seen in a sad things in court, but I think what really keeps me going as an interpreter and certainly as a trainer, is the fact that on the other hand, the linguistic challenge, the constant gymnastics of your brain going from English and Spanish or English in Chinese. It doesn't matter what language is. What keeps me going in this, in this business. I certainly find it very interesting. Some of the, uh, uh, situations that I've had are actually not all that serious and I had a, been part of some actually comical situations in court. Even if people might not believe that there are times when things end up being funny for one reason or another. Do you remember a situation where something became funny or, or, uh, make people laugh because of what happened with interpretation?

Speaker 2:18:09The few times that I've had funny situations happen with me interpreting very, very lane ones, if you will, where suddenly the witness gave the answer in English rather than Spanish. And I interpreted that into, into English rather than the other language. And that was kind of like befuddled and confused. And everybody kind of chuckled a little bit. Also, the tricky ones do a little bit away from the conical is when when inmates have insulted the judge with a very nasty insult in their, in their language, like in Spanish, which I interpret. And it was funny for me at one moment as I was getting ready to give my rendition into English that I would look at Americans with their jaws dropped eyes wide open. It's like, oh my gosh, that is a bad word. Oh my God. So that was kinda like a little tricky for me at least.

Speaker 1:19:13Yeah, I know. I, I, I remember, uh, you know, our friend Patricia Mckesson for a podcast these days. But she always tells a story about a guy who was interpreting it. I mean, I'm sorry, a given testimony in Spanish. And he said that he accepted, makes decisions, you know, who saw him when he got up to do the emergency room? And he said, Dr Don doty and therapists have doctors and jewelry. And for awhile back and forth and writing was talking about Dr Gundry. And nobody could find out who is Dr Sans Dory One. They couldn't find a doctors and doing the rostering, the hospital or any place else until somebody listened to a little bit closer and what they guy was trying to say was instead of a testifying completely in Spanish, he tried to say something in English. Can you guess what he was trying to say? No one never really. You said the doctors on duty.

Speaker 2:20:17Oh my gosh.

Speaker 1:20:18Dr Became Dr Sam Dury and that was it a time of Lebanon. That court, even though obviously that situation was not necessarily a funny one, but everybody had an opportunity to crack up because they had been looking for Dr Sans Dory for a long time and nobody knew what to do with that.

Speaker 2:20:40Well, I have a few of those. I can think of two. One of them I was doing, I was listening to a undercover recording of two people trying to prepare a transection exchanging drugs at a particular place and the guy was speaking, the two guys were speaking Spanish and because of the accident, one of them said the name of the establishment. And I could not understand it. I had to get a colleague to help me and he said saying Buddha and Buddha, and now it's like, what is that? So one of my colleagues said she understood the guy's accent because they were from the same home country. James, that's hooters. There you go. And then you have another one where this guy also say, yeah, that I was. And he said it in Spanish. So they sent me to that kind of you. Yeah. What's going to be here? You know what that means? County jail. So it's, it can throw you off. You know, when they try to use English and they don't pronounce it well, those words can throw you off. It's a fun challenge.

Speaker 1:21:45Yeah, it sure is. And, and, and I think that it's true what you said, we never stopped. We never stop learning. We still have a, there's now from the point of view of the people you work with because you work with judges. We judge. Our attorney would call the end users. Obviously many of them are not bilingual people are. Many of them happened to me. Monolinguals, why do you think is there more difficult? The most difficult thing for them to understand what we do

Speaker 2:22:15is that we're able to interpret simultaneously that we are able to process two languages so quickly. That's what they admire the most.

Speaker 1:22:25When when do you think is difficult for them to understand as to what we do because do you get the feeling sometimes that if modeling was think that what we do could be done by pretty much anybody.

Speaker 2:22:37Well, you know that you have that. A anecdote that it circulates once in awhile that during a conference, at the end of the conference for getting ready for the next day, the one of the organizers said to the group of interpreters, well that's good. You know, we won't need you tomorrow. We just got the boxes. They'll. There'll be enough to interpret for us. Exactly. So that's a misconception right? Right there and well, but going to a more serious note, when you go to the courthouse and you're involved with the court system and the court participants, I sense that they appreciate what we do for them and they appreciate the significance of our work that without us there native able from the standpoint of judges to impart justice from the standpoint of court administrators that were not without us, where they, these people don't have language access to justice. We're not about giving them access to justice like an attorney or a judge were about the linguistic access to justice and uh, several, I would say a lot of court systems around the country now have realized that our job is important. It's not. Yeah. It's not like an expensive necessity because a few of them do that. We have people who are bilingual, you know, a few people still don't understand and administration, they don't understand that our, our skills, our specialized very like a niche field, if you will. It's not easy to interpret and process ideas in two languages as quickly. So I think that those who really understand it appreciate it.

Speaker 1:24:19I think that, I don't know if you agree with me, but we have made major strides in that direction because I happen to believe that when you and I started in this business, the idea was, oh wow, you know, anybody that is bilingual can do this job with no problem, no big deal, and I, I will never forget. One guy does a long time ago we were going to start a trial and we didn't have interpreters that day because they had not been requested on time. And I said, well, I'm sorry judge. There's no certified interpreters available today. They're all on either in a conference or we already have a couple of trials going on, and he said, well, just go out there and certify more than. I thought it was funny. It was just like I had some kind of magic one that will go out there and just now you're certified, you're certified, you're certified and the certificate. Where do you think we're going? Do you think that where we heading with this profession, but you think we are getting where we want to be? What would you like to see happen in the future?

Speaker 2:25:29I would like to see a a level playing field for for those interpreters whose language pair is not in as much demand as in Spanish or for some places, sign language, for example. I would like the playing field to be leveled for those interpreters to have the ability to have more resources for training and learning as well as certification. The judges I work with have that, that idea of I have to have a certified interpreter in my courtroom, meaning if you're not. If I don't have a certified interpreter, then nothing else counts, so I would. I would love to see the field filled with interpreters that are certified for all languages and it's gonna be a challenge because primarily money is involved. It is expensive to proofs exams. That's one thing that I would like to see in the future, what direction interpreting is moving to technology is going to be an important factor.

Speaker 2:26:32I myself, I'm studying possibilities where technology could be aligned with a service that will cost less. However, the level of qualification of interpreter we hire can remain the same because it'll be as good. It's just that technology will facilitate access to justice court administrators in my area, in my district as well as other states I know are trying to to see how they can find technological ways of bringing people to court in a, in a more efficient and money saving weight research resources are limited. I was dean so they have to make use of whatever resources they can with the funds that they have as long as they keep in mind that they must not sacrifice quality.

Speaker 1:27:26That's the biggest challenge, right? To keep quality. But do I go with, with technology and I'm sure, but I want us to reiterate that we're not talking about technology. Have robots doing our job. Right, and we're not there yet.

Speaker 2:27:41No, definitely not. I'm just talking about the tools for sound to travel in space if you will. It's the Internet.

Speaker 1:27:49That's right and I, I get it, but I went to a doctor about builds. My ex told me, and this was about 20 years ago, I started looking for another profession because machines will be doing my job in a matter of two or three years. Luckily it hasn't happened in 20 and I don't see it happening very soon, but we can use that. I'm going to quote somebody and I don't remember the name of this, but I liked what he said. He said, technology's not going to replace interpreters, but some interpreters have to be replaced by other interpreters who use technology and I think that really is what it is.

Speaker 2:28:29I've heard that one before because you know it's part of the professional development of an interpreter and you see that in in the codes of ethics of according to operators around the country, professional development calls. Not only for taking more interpreting skills, training courses, but also leveraging technology so that your job can be more professional, more accessible and more marketable to.

Speaker 1:28:57Right, and I wanted to bring it back full circle because obviously technology got you interested in the business because you saw this, but we were able to. Were able to hear all these interpreters in different men, which is speaking at the same time, so obviously we have been using technology for awhile. Right. Well James, you know, I know that you have a lot of things to do. You're a busy man. We really appreciate your time after a full day of work to be joining us for a little bit. I really appreciate your time and effort and if you have any closing words, I was going to say goodbye to our audience.

Speaker 2:29:36Well thank you. Say it was a pleasure being with you and also to just emphasize that those who are listening to this podcast who are interpreters must not let their guard down to find ways to challenge yourselves. Seek ways to develop yourself professionally. Try to move through your associations and committees, et Cetera to get more, more tools available for you. Certification is one thing that I'm thinking about and if you're new to interpreting in, just starting, find it. Find a good training program, a good workshop. Every type of opportunity you can to to measure yourself against yourself. Not just comparing your interpreting to other interpreters, but try to improve yourself. Okay. So you can be really a true professional. That's basically,

Speaker 1:30:31and I, I really want to thank you for that and I'm so glad that you mentioned that. Weakest, I would be remiss if not, I don't have mentioned one on ones. And again, uh, we as interpreters have a responsibility to strengthen our professional associations. So here goes out to all of us out there. Join your associations, the National Object Association of judicial interpreters and translators. Magic a Ada, the reservation, I mia the Medical Association, C I, C h, I a and any other interpretation, uh, association, local or international because that will give us us a whole strengths and strength is in numbers and we want all to be able to provide better service to the community. So again, thank you very much James.

Speaker 2:31:23My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation. I was seen Karen. Bye Bye. Bye Bye.

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