Things change in the judiciary interpreting world, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. How to adapt? My courthouse and medical in-person assignments vanished as of 3/12 due to COVID-19. Our household’s revenue stream decreased by nearly half without any warning. Over-the-telephone assignments fill the gap for the interim. Imagine my surprise when a bailiff called for a voice acting gig.


(phone rings) Bailiff: Hey John. We’re looking for someone to record “Your Rights as a Defendant” for our court’s web page in Spanish. Do you do that type of thing?

Me: (stifling a squeal) Yeah, I have voice acting experience.

Bailiff: OK, let me send you the document. Only prepare the circled portion.

Me: I’ll translate the text and begin to practice. Will my regular hourly rate do?

Bailiff: Perfectly acceptable. Thank you again for assisting us with this.


Now I transition from interpreter to translator. My dear friend Sandra Bravo of International Language Solutions agreed to translate “Your Rights as a Defendant” into Spanish. Mind you, I interpreted the text hundreds of times but sought a native speaker’s expertise to achieve a more pure script.

Criminal defendants are entitled to constitutional rights that include the requirement that the prosecution prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to remain silent, to confront witnesses, too have a public/jury/speedy trial and representation by an attorney. The defendant’s recording sprang from the court’s transition to VRI (video remote interpreting) hearings. Defendants need to hear their rights in spite of the change from a live to a remote appearance.


Now I change from translator to voice actor. Although the  piece ran just short of three minutes, I “exercised” in order to create a professional product. Exercises prepare the voice just as a sprinter warms up before bracing at the starting block. James R. Alburger’s The Art of Voice Acting, a “bible” with suggestions to relax and record, tumbled from the shelf. I also called upon the guidance of Dan Popp, Sound Czar (voice actor, audio producer and voiceover trainer) of Colors Audio. Dan directed me in “End of Life Care: Advance Care Planning for Primary Care Practitioners” through Sarah Lawrence College.

Exercises prepare the voice just as a sprinter warms up before bracing at the starting block. Here are some of many in Alburger’s bible.Here are some of many in Alburger’s bible. For starters stretch your tongue toward the nose and hold for ten seconds. Then, stretch it down toward the chin and hold for another ten to warm up the jaw and mouth. Move and hold the tongue to the left side of your mouth. Lastly position the tongue to the right, hold for ten seconds then release. Confession: I slobber. Keep a Kleenex or handkerchief at hand for residual saliva.


Yep, that’s the name. Horse lips. Take a deep breath, slowly release air through the lips and let them flutter. Repeat three to five times. Tired yet? Try to yawn on purpose. Hold an exaggerated yawn for ten seconds. Rest and repeat two more times.

Next scrunch up your face as tight as possible. I clench my teeth but not to the point of pain or discomfort. Then, open your eyes and mouth as wide as possible to increase blood flow to the face. Hold each position for ten seconds or more. On to record.


Switch from voice actor to audio recording engineer. Fancy schmantzy title for a guy who uses a simple app on the iPhone. Apple’s Voice Memos worked easily to record, archive and send the file to the client.

I read through the script several times to warm up the pipes. Usually I don’t sing but imagined Father O’Leary at the pulpit during Sunday morning mass at my childhood church, St. Anthony/All Saints Parish. I sang the script to my parishioners/defendants à la call-and-response from the pulpit. Suzan-Lori Parks of Watch Me Work suggests writers walk around and read the script aloud. In the creative process you’ll “get the work in your body, start telling yourself the story, imagine the story on the screen.” These ideas blend well with the voice actor experience.

I marked pauses, places to breathe and spots to enunciate on the script. Dan’s voice whispered in my ear “just slo-o-o-o-o-w down.” I noted when to emphasize a word, inflection up or down, and pause. After several passes with Voice Memos a viable recording emerged. I went through three changes to the serve the court’s need to serve the Hispanic community. Personally, it’s a kick to voice act. Click on Getting into Voice Acting to start on a new path.

Do you have a religion?



Edgardo: Hi, John. How are you?

John: I’m fine. How are you and your family?

Edgardo: Oh, they’re OK. Can I ask you a question?

John: Sure.

Edgardo: Do you have a religion?

This simple question gave me pause, forced me to examine morals and ethics honestly. Did my religion interfere with the decision to accept an interpreting assignment? My colleague Edgardo posed this question last week. An agency asked him to interpret for an abortion appointment. He wondered if he should or shouldn’t accept the assignment, hence the phone call. I responded that I was born Catholic yet did not practice a religion. I do engage in a spiritual practice. “Would you accept the job today?” he inquired. From years of interpreting in pediatrics with witnessing everything from birth to death, my feelings changed.


I interpreted for an abortion once over twenty years ago. Edgardo’s question uncovered deep emotions long stashed away. Sadness comes to mind. Since that experience I watched a humble couple become overcome with joy to see their little one for the first time during an ultrasound. Another different session included vain attempts to relay the gravity of fetal anomalies to a family from the highlands of Central America. A somber mood dominated another job where a mother learned the child she carried no longer moved.

The abortion assignment took place in a non-descript building on a major thoroughfare in a Midwest city. There I met a frightened young female who waited with her high school companion. Her friend served as an interpreter till my arrival. The provider asked me to sight translate paperwork, explain the procedure and allow for questions before initiating the procedure. I adhered to the tenets* of impartiality and accuracy throughout and conveyed the messages in a calm voice. “I sure knew these medical words”, I thought.


It’s imperative for medical interpreters to remain impartial, that is “eliminate the effect of interpreter bias or preference. The interpreter does not allow personal judgment or cultural value to influence objectivity. An interpreter does not reveal personal feelings through words, tone of voice or body language” [1]. I had trained first as a judiciary interpreter and clung fiercely to maintain an intellectual separation. One supervisor at LanguageLine Solutions remarked, “John, you are just a voice.” Sure, ethics and standards of practice are integral components to the interpreter’s role. Ethics comes from the Greek ethos: principle of right in good conduct; a moral custom. Ethics help us decide how to use our power and we are trusted by people who depend on our use of power. Would I use that power once again?


I can refuse assignments as an independent contractor and told Edgardo that I didn’t have a religion. After serious contemplation I said “No, I would refer the job to someone else.” What do other medical interpreters do when faced with equally difficult assignments? Please comment below.

*tenet: a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy “People raised in a religion tend to accept its tenets, often without independent examination.” www.lexico.com

[1] National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care https://www.ncihc.org/assets/documents/publications/NCIHC%20National%20Standards%20of%20Practice.pdf


Respect in Plain Clothes



Please view the attached article composed by Emily Lanier, my dear colleague at Akron Children’s Hospital and me. Post your comments below. Thanks.

Love and respect 6


State of mind terminology

state of mind 1


Listen to the story of a frightened assault victim. Research the underlined words (see state of mind below) and translate the testimony. Add the underlined words to a term list. Terms may appear on the written or oral court interpreter exam. Then, record your interpretation to practice sight translation (an oral translation of a written text). All three practices increase the possibility that you will pass. Linguee, IATE and Proz.com serve as jumping-off points for word searches.



Today Abdi Duale faces her aggressor in open court. She filed a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) with the assistance of a domestic violence advocate and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (link. Omar faces two charges: domestic violence, a misdemeanor of the 4th degree and violation of the protection order, a type of restraining order that requires the defendant to stay away from the alleged victim during the course of the criminal Domestic Violence case. She timidly testifies from the witness stand while her attacker reeks of conceit and arrogance from counsel table.

Somali womanTESTIMONY

PROSECUTOR: s/he who prosecutes another for a crime in the name of the government

JUDGE: a public officer, appointed to preside and to administer the law in a court of justice

WITNESS: person called to court to testify and give evidence

BAILIFF: a person who performs certain actions under legal authority; an official in a court of law who keeps order, looks after prisoners, etc.


BAILIFF: Do you swear that all the testimony you are about to give in the case now before the court will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under the pains and penalties of perjury?


JUDGE: Please state your name for the record and spell your last name.

WITNESS: My name is Abdi Duale Dihoud, D-U-A-L-E-D-I-H-O-U-D.

PROSECUTOR: Good afternoon, Miss Duale Dihoud. I am going to ask you a series of questions about the event that took place on October 8, 2017. Do you remember that evening?

WITNESS: Yes, that’s the night that Omar attacked me in our home.

PROSECUTOR: Before the event, were you angry with him?

WITNESS: No, I wasn’t angry but I was confused and scared. Omar arrived home from work upset. He startled me by crashing through the living room. He smelled of liquor and slurred his words.

PROSECUTOR: What happened next?

WITNESS: Usually he is glad. That night he frightened me and shouted, “I heard you were with Elmi last week.” He had a dazed look on his face and I thought “He is out of it.” He slumped to the floor and began to weep.

PROSECUTOR: Then what happened?

WITNESS: He managed to stand up, stumbled toward me and grabbed my neck. Paralyzed with fear, I couldn’t breathe.


WITNESS: He let me go. Horrified, I backed away. He continued to say bad things. He threatened to tell our whole community about Elmi. He turned around and stumbled out the door. I haven’t seen him since then.

PROSECUTOR: At any time did he brandish a weapon?

WITNESS: What do you mean, brandish? I don’t understand what that means.

PROSECUTOR: Did he pull out a knife or gun or some other weapon that evening?

WITNESS: No, he just left.


state of mind

Criminal domestic violence information


List of 250 emotions and feelings in Spanish


Feelings and body sensations






Drug Testing Agreement



Listen to the story of a young lady who went afoul of the law. Research the underlined words and translate the drug testing agreement. Add the underlined words to a term list. Terms may appear on the written or oral exam. Then, record your interpretation to practice sight translation (an oral translation of a written text). All three practices increase the possibility that you will pass the oral exam. Linguee can serve as a starting point for research.


Greta stole $4oo from her mother’s purse. She already missed over a month of high school. Cash in hand she ventured to the local park to purchase methamphetamine (speed, chalk, tweak, gak, Tina) from an undercover officer. Her scheme resulted in two charges; truancy and possession of controlled substances, a minor drug offense. The local magistrate imposed a year probation and random drug screening. Her probation officer will reassess the case periodically to determine compliance with the guidelines. Any violation of the probation conditions subject Greta to return to court.


JUVENILE: _________________________                FAMILY FILE # _________________________

I, _________________________, understand that as a condition of probation and/or court order:

  1. I am subject to mandatory urine testing for drugs or alcohol usage when requested by my probation officer.
  2. Failure or refusal to submit to drug testing or tampering with a urine specimen could be considered a “positive” test.
  3. Any positive result can lead to sanctions including a violation of probation.
  4. The results of the testing are confidential and will only be released in accordance with Federal or State Law.
  5. If I test positive to an illegal drug, I have the right prior to adjudication to request a retest of the same specimen to be done by Recovery Services of Greater Poughkeepsie. I may be assessed the cost of the retest. OR
    1. I may elect to sign a statement admitting a positive screen after the initial test by my probation officer. My parents know that I may choose this option.

I, the undersigned, have read or had read to me the above information and understand these instructions. I understand that the Court will be informed if I fail to cooperate or provide false, incomplete or misleading information.

Signature of probationer


Signature of parent


Probation Officer                                                                  Date

______________________________                                             ______________________________

drug agreement


Expand Your Wardrobe Vocabulary



Fear grips my brain when an unknown word comes up on an assignment. Solution? Research and prepare a term list. Sue Ellen Wright, my terminology professor at the Institute for Applied Linguistics taught us to develop our own lists. Today we start with clothing. You can expand  to include not only nouns but also verb patterns (Nike’s Anorak covers your hips) to increase recall. My fellow interpreter Steve Sachs remarked years ago to learn words in context, not isolation.


Prepare a clothing list with the document below in a format that works for you (Word, Excel, Notes). Tailor the table to meet your needs (no pun intended) with more columns. A suggestion is to form a phrase to link a garment to a verb: “Raúl wears jeans to work”, “Put on a smock before painting” and “Monica’s evening gown dazzled the crowd at Saturday’s gala.” Click on these links for further investigation: Proz, Linguee and IATE linguee. I find Google images helps further capture meaning.

beater 2


A confession: my problem words are blazer (a plain jacket not forming part of a suit but considered appropriate for formal wear), bow tie and a certain t-shirt, the wife beater. The latter tripped me up while a detective interviewed a rape suspect. Urban Dictionary defines a wife beater: “a form fitting white ribbed tank top worn by men; looks good on well-built fellas, pathetic on skinny fellas, and disgusting on fat beer bellied fellas: Brad Pitt looks damn good in a wife beater.


Onesie: an infant’s one-piece close-fitting lightweight garment, usually having sleeves but leaving the legs uncovered and fastening with snaps at the crotch.


“Onesie” came up in a pediatrician’s office: “Mrs. Belaunde, you can dress him in his onesie and leave his legs bare for the DTAP vaccine.” A “onesie”? Twosie, threesie, foursie and the word does not come to mind yet. In the moment my work around was to drop the onesie and include the “dress” portion. A later search produced mameluco on Proz. Does anyone have other suggestions for this infant wear?


Another pat phrase in pediatric clinics asks parents to prepare a little one for measurements. “Undress Edgardo down to the diaper.” The assistant wants the dad to remove clothing but keep the diaper on. I used to say “Take off her clothes but keep the diaper on.” A Honduran mother asked “¿Permanece con el pañal?/Does he keep the diaper on?” Today I say “Permanezca con el pañal.” I learned “to wear” from native Hondurans: traer puesto. “Does your daughter wear glasses all the time?” The verb phrase also works when an audiologist asks if Marcos wears his hearing aids at school or at home.


Now that you have a list, decide how to gain rapid access on the fly. As a caution I notify the provider why I reach for the iPhone for terms. Storage options include Notes or Dropbox. Choose which works best for you. Have fun with your research and post any ideas or comments.

TERM Definition Source Sentence ES,
Anorak Usually a pullover hooded jacket long enough to cover hips https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anorak


This playful, very packable nylon ANORAK from Nike is the perfect antidote to gray skies that threaten to ruin your trip. Chubascero (ES), chaqueta polar; From Inuit, Greenland annoraaq




Land vehicles

low rider

Each language and regions names vehicles differently. My first exposure to multiple vehicle types came from over-the-telephone interpreting. The challenge appeared with what may sound a simple word to translate: car. People from Puerto Rico mentioned gua gua for their rides. Folks from Mexico and Guatemala used different terms for the same vehicle.



If you interpret for workers compensation claims, what is the word for a small platform on wheels used for holding heavy objects? A dolly. Is a dolly a hand truck?  A dolly is defined as a platform with four wheels and two axles. A hand truck can slide underneath the item while on the ground. The worker then has to lift whatever is transported onto a dolly. Perhaps the injured worker tripped while transporting goods from one end of the factory to the other or strained his back when lifting heavy objects. Each one is different.




I am a healthcare interpreter with Akron Children’s Hospital and stumbled during a child’s occupational therapy evaluation. A parent explained how his little bruiser loved to careen around the kitchen in his araña. What? A spider? After a clarification from dad I figured out Vicente moved about in a “walker”, or andador. Have you had similar challenges?


I send a list of land vehicles for research. One method is to create a table in your word processing program with four columns: source language, target language, sentence and source. Tailor the list to meet your needs. Happy travels!

Land vehicles






How does an interpreter set the stage as a professional? One tool that serves to that end is the pre-session or briefing session where the judicial interpreter states her role to the parties in both languages before beginning. Over the years I learned to say, “Counsel, may I introduce myself to your client?” Invariably the attorney agreed and I began “Soy interpréte y no soy abogado …”. I’d hand the attached handout (or show it to the lawyer) then proceed with the session. Sure, some may say there is no time for a pre-session. To those I say, “Make time and reduce the briefing session to ‘I am an interpreter and not an attorney’”, eight brief words that protect the interpreter.


Recently a colleague, Monica Benavides, invited fellow interpreters to meet at Rincón Criollo in the Gordon Arts District of Cleveland https://www.rinconcriollocle.com/. The crowd consisted of seasoned and neophyte interpreters who shared ideas and savored traditional Puerto Rican dishes. A newcomer to our field young lady and I ordered mofongo. Between bites she expressed concerns about court interpreting. Hence the pre-session discussion.


Interpreters can take charge and present them selves professionally from the outset. Arlene M. Kelly of the American Translators Association www.atanet.org shared this pre-session script years ago (see attached) that I to this day each time a defendant and lawyer appear or at check-in with the bailiff. After a sumptuous meal the young lady and I exchanged contact information and I sent the attached the next day. This provided another opportunity to educate not only a newcomer but the court on how to work with interpreters. Please distribute and comment as you like.

The Nature of Duties to the Defendant



NOTA hosted a Social Networking Event at Panera in Powell, Ohio, on Saturday,
April 30, 2011. Everyone introduced themselves, passed out business cards and networked, networked, networked!

Here’s a reason to join a professional group. One participant posed this question: Why can I sign documents (that state I interpreted)? Zenh Colwell wants to know why we can’t sign documents in an interpreting session. One member noted that would be a legal liability to be avoided.

NOTA Workshop Saturday, May 21, 2010. 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Hudson Library and Historical Society, 96 Library St., Hudson OH 44236. The workshop will highlight the role of social media in the translation profession and introduce you to key strategies on using social media: how to be at the center of attention; how to create your Cyber Café Presence; and how to make cyber connections. Contact Vitaliy Plinto at vvp13@aol.com or 440.449.9435.

Remember, if you aren’t marketing, you’re dying.

Oliver Renwick utilized Interpretapes to prepare for the Ohio State Court Interpreter’s exam. Interpretapes are Spanish-English practice materials developed to provide individuals an opportunity to enhance their court interpreting skills and have language laboratory-type practice with a CD player. Visit http://nci.arizona.edu/about_legal_interpretapes.

Another option is Edge21: An Interpreter’s Edge for the 21st Century by Holly Mikkelson. Holly is Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation at the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, Monterey Institute of International Studies. This product provides practice in the three modes of interpreting used in court interpretation (consecutive, simultaneous and sight). Holly’s materials have been tested in major court interpretation exams. Visit at http://www.acebo.com/e21.htm.

One participant expressed concern about idioms that would be included in court interpreting exams. One option is to study one a day. InTrans Book Service provides a copious offering of books that address this conundrum. Visit http://www.intransbooks.com/cgi-bin/quikstore.cgi. How do you interpret “break a leg” or “they left him holding the bag”?

The group discussed how to deal with clients who are slow to pay. Visit Ted Wozniak’s Payment Practices list at http://www.paymentpractices.net. He provides freelance translators and interpreters with information about the payment practices of translation agencies and other clients. The database includes translation agency information, responses and comments. The annual subscription fee for access to the Payment Practices database is just $19.99. That money will come back in spades.

Another option is to contact your local Better Business Bureau. You can also visit the American Translators Association site for a model contract at http://www.atanet.org/careers/model_contract.php.

Ana Costello won a copy of How to Succeed As A Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay. You can order your copy at http://www.translatewrite.com. Hungry for more? Corinne McKay’s online course Getting Started as a Freelance Translator builds on the concepts in her book and gives you six weeks of personalized coaching on starting your own home-based translation business. Visit Corinne at http://www.translatewrite.com.

Thanks to Natalie Chubb and Vitaliy Plinto for pulling this event together.

Visit http://www.notatranslators.org.

TBA in Fairlawn or Kent


Eight NOTA members met at a social networking event to network, share business strategies and dine. NOTA continues to grow and as the Spanish proverb says “El comer y el rascar, todo es empezar/To eat and to scratch one has but to begin.” What a fine way to begin again. We covered the following:

-Kent State’s MA/Ph.D. program and the advantages to meet people from throughout the world.

-Deborah Cordeiro will host a Direct Marketing workshop. Contact Vitaly for more information vvp13ster@gmail.com.

-Marketing to agencies.

-Use LinkedIn to contact clients and the need to update your profile and network on a regular basis (blog, other networks). Focus on what will interest our community. If you blog, they will come! If you want to be of interest, you have to expose yourself.

-SCORE provides free online and face-to-face business counseling, mentoring, training and advice for small businesses (developing a business plan, women entrepreneurs, and online workshops). Visit http://www.score.org.

-The best free way to manage your money online, set budgets and help achieve savings goals. Visit http://www.mint.com

-Tax issues and software.

-The advantages of an LLC and perhaps a NOTA workshop to learn more.

-$.51 per mile is the new federal rate for travel.

-Advantages of certification: ATA, NAJIT, State and federal interpreter.

-Encourage members to write articles for NOTA BENE. Contact Natalie Contact Natalie at nchubb@chubbtranslations.com.

-“Effective Use of Social Media” NOTA workshop on Saturday, May 21, 2011. Contact Vitaly vvp13ster@gmail.com.

-Increase traffic on NOTA website.

-Congratulations to Deborah Cordeiro, winner of a $10 gift card from Border’s.

-Next NOTA Social Network event in Columbus 4/30/11, 3:00 – 5:00. Contact Natalie at nchubb@chubbtranslations.com.

Although we did not know each other beforehand, every member had a chance to speak. The conversation flew at lightning speed from one subject to another with no stops in between. Everyone walked away content and with a new contact.

See you at the next event.


John P. Shaklee
President, NOTA

PHOTO (seated) Marcia Loebick, Deborah Cordeiro, Tommy Tomolonis (standing) John P. Shaklee, Miguel Purgatorio, Zhewei Fan, and Vitaliy Plinto (not pictured) Natalia Tsumakova


thoughts on interpreting

Liam O'Dell

Freelance Journalist and Campaigner

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