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Practice sessions support a community of interpreters
On a late autumn day attendees gather virtually after lunch to practice interpretation in Spanish and English. This is a lively group with participants throughout the country from upstate New York to Texas. Welcome to Hudson Valley Farm Hub’s bimonthly Interpreter Practice Sessions.
Liliana “Li” Sierra who leads the Farm Hub’s Language Justice Program kicks off the practice session with a memory recall ice breaker that starts with the sentence “Once upon a time there was a bird. Unfortunately….” Participants build on the story by adding a word. The person last in the sequence attempts to recount verbatim the story in its entirety. The exercise elicits encouragement and laughter from fellow attendees.
“There was a lot happening…It [the ice breaker] reminded me of transitioning between interpreting and participating in a conversation,” Sierra says.
Over the past four years, the Language Justice Program has hosted a series of Interpreter Practice Sessions for people interested in sharpening their skills in interpretation through presentation, activities, and practice, many with an eye on exploring career opportunities in this growing field.
In 2019, when Adriana Pericchi was the Language Justice Program coordinator, she organized a two-day interpreting for social justice training attended by bilingual staff from local organizations and facilitated by Telesh Lopez and Sierra. After the training, Pericchi followed the tradition of regular practice sessions in other parts of the country and started them in Kingston. The sessions were first held in her living room.
Practice makes perfect
The sessions offer practice time as well as practical information about running a business, including methods for winning new clients and invoicing (interpreters are often hired by assignment). The sessions, free and virtual, are held twice per month rotating between afternoons and evenings to accommodate a variety of professions and shifts.
While the gatherings are open to everyone with an interest in interpretation, the facilitators mostly work between Spanish and English, in part reflecting the fabric of the demographics in the U.S.; Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S.
The gatherings attract attendees from across the country and internationally, many of whom are native or fluent Spanish speakers. They are designed to be fun and to connect those with an interest in using their language skills for interpretation in a professional capacity. A key goal of the series is to amplify the work of Language Justice and increase the presence of multilingual spaces in our community and beyond.
Best of both worlds
Alexandra Lotero Vanderkam, a freelance interpreter and translator based in Wallkill, NY, is a regular attendee. She joined in February 2023. She says she’s easily been able to apply what is learned in the practice sessions to her work, including consecutive interpretation at parent meetings for students receiving special education services.
“They’ve [the practice sessions] helped me go from doing interpretation and translation as a volunteer to becoming a professional,” says Lotero, whose native language is Spanish. “I’ve learned to hone my memory, use equipment, give an intro to prepare participants to support a multilingual space, and to advocate for what I need such as breaks or a partner.” She also values the chance to connect with other fellow interpreters that it offers.
She continued: “As a child of immigrants, I’ve always felt myself to be part of and in between two worlds. In my best moments, interpreting allows me to understand and communicate a message, and through that to bring people, communities, and worlds together. I appreciate and feel honored by the support I get from the interpreter community to do the work that I love.”
During this recent session, attendees were given tips and strategies on consecutive interpretation and split into pairs to practice. Consecutive interpretation is the practice of delayed spoken translation in which a speaker says a sentence or two and a pause is required while the interpreter conveys what was said in another language.
Pericchi, now a freelance interpreter and translator based in Kingston, says, “I gained some empathy for clients out of this exercise. It was hard for me to keep my thread telling the story with the pauses.” Perrichi collaborates with the Farm Hub’s Language Justice Program as both a facilitator and as a participant.
The contact list has grown to more than 100 people, and any given session attracts about a dozen regulars. Sierra says the virtual format allows more people to participate – since the pandemic, there has been a greater need for professional interpreters who are tech-savvy.
“It’s important to be familiar with as much of the technology out there for language work as possible so you can maximize the chances of working,” says Sierra. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for interpreters and translators is expected to grow 4% from 2022 to 2032, and many of the opportunities are in schools, hospitals, courtrooms, and other non-profits and businesses. The Language Justice Program at the Farm Hub sees many opportunities in agriculture, considering that an estimated 81% of people working in agriculture are Spanish-speaking, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The majority of agricultural workers in the U.S. reported they are most comfortable speaking in Spanish, according to the National Center for Farmworker Health.
A multilingual space
Beyond training interpreters and amplifying the importance of language justice work, Sierra says the mission of the sessions is to develop a community for interpreters and advocates, and perhaps inspire a new generation of interpreters.
“We hope that people will go away from a practice session feeling like they are not alone in learning and practicing and advocating for language justice,” says Sierra.
“A huge goal is to build community and offer a space for people to get to know each other, exchange contact information, and to feel like there’s a network of people out there who are interested in learning, in practicing, and who are excited to nerd out on language.”
Advocacy extends beyond those who interpret – it also involves recognizing the importance of bilingual space in our society. There are many ways to make a difference, including advocating for the hiring of language workers and supporting training and compensation for those in language work.
“I think what is most exciting is the possibility of building community and seeing what can come from that,” says Sierra. “It is like watering a garden. While we don’t know what kind of flowers will come out of this work right away. Aside from sharing practical tools and connecting, we are cultivating that space and it’s exciting to see what can emerge from there.”
The next Language Justice Interpreter Practice Session will begin again in the new year.
To date, all our facilitators work with Spanish<>English. If you work with a different language, we encourage you to attend with a practice buddy so that you can offer each other support and feedback during our practice activities. If you come alone, you will still gain something from joining. If interested, please register, or feel free to spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested in joining. To be placed on the mailing list please click here.