Abstracts and Biographies


Translation of Civil Legal Documents from Mexico: Resources, Comparative Law, Evidentiary Requirements

Holly Mikkelson

In this hands-on translation seminar, participants will analyze and translate a legal document from Mexico intended to be submitted as evidence in a civil suit in a U.S. court. As the translation is discussed, resources including dictionaries, civil codes, form books, and websites will be reviewed. Relevant aspects of comparative law and notarization of translations for submission into evidence will also be discussed. Participants will receive an annotated bibliography.

Holly Mikkelson is Program Director at Language Services Associates and Adjunct Associate Professor of Translation and Interpretation in the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  She is a state and federally certified court interpreter, is ATA-accredited Spanish>English and English>Spanish, and has written numerous books and articles on court interpreting and related issues.  She has been a consultant to a wide variety of public and private entities on interpreter training and testing.



“Did I Say That?” “Isn’t That What She Said?” Self- and Other-Monitoring Activity in the Courtroom: Process and Problems

Nancy Schweda Nicholson, PhD

This presentation considers how interpreters (1) listen to themselves, recognize their mistakes, and correct them (“self-monitoring”); and (2) focus on the output of the people for whom they are interpreting as well as that of additional speakers in the courtroom (“other-monitoring”).

In terms of self-monitoring, we generally think about what we are going to say before we speak. During this time, we may decide among synonyms and choose the appropriate level of language (i.e. “guy” vs. “gentleman”) based on the context. We also select the proper grammatical structure from the particular language’s inventory. I call this the “pre-articulatory” stage. After we make these choices, we speak (“articulation”). Usually, everything matches up and we are happy with what we have said. At other times, though, we may wish to make a correction or express ourselves in a different way. In other words, we can also go back and change something after we have spoken. This is the “post-articulatory” stage. In this context, we will discuss how and when, if at all, we recognize our mistakes as well as the strategies we use to correct them.

In addition, we will talk about “other-monitoring”; paying attention to what witnesses, judges, attorneys and our team members say. Interpreters encounter many challenges that can interfere with successful monitoring. Some of these include false cognates, mishearing, words with multiple meanings, contradictions, and ambiguity among others. We will look at a great variety of examples. This is not a perfect world so we will review both internal (“Gosh, I wish I could get rid of this horrible headache”) and external (“It’s so hot in this room I can barely breathe!”) reasons for monitoring breakdowns. Participants are encouraged to share their own monitoring successes as well as problems they may have faced during this interactive working session.

Nancy Schweda Nicholson, PhD is Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Delaware. She has been an interpreter trainer and researcher for over 20 years. During the summers of 2000 and 2001, she has taught intensive 2-week seminars in Spanish>English and Russian>English consecutive interpretation for FBI Language Specialists at the University of Delaware. She regularly offers Continuing Education workshops for the State of New Jersey Staff Interpreters. She also provides orientations for prospective court interpreters in the State of Delaware. She is currently a consulting linguist to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, assisting with the development of a revised version of the Federal Spanish>English Court Interpreter Certification Examination. She is also a consultant to the Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Gender Fairness. The Commission is currently deciding how best to implement a testing and certification program for court interpreters in Indiana.


Sight Translation
Sara Garcia-Rangel

Sight translation is an important part of a court interpreter’s work that is often neglected by both trainers and practitioners.  Improving the skills required for sight translation will help, not only to provide better renditions of the documents that have to be sight-translated, but also to perform better in both the consecutive and simultaneous modes of interpretation.

Documents that have to be sight-translated in criminal cases include the complaint, the indictment, police reports, documentary evidence, the plea agreement, and the application to ask permission to enter a guilty plea, if that is going to be the disposition.  If the case goes to trial, there may be additional expert reports and evidence.  Ultimately, the sentencing process will require the sight translation of the pre-sentence report, letters, official records, testimonials, and other materials pertinent to the selection of an appropriate sentence.  There are, of course, many documents in civil cases but, for the most part, if a translation is needed it is usually done in written form during the pretrial stage. In this presentation, we will analyze the process of sight translation, discuss the necessary skills, and suggest tips and exercises to enhance those skills using actual court documents for practice.

Sara Garcia-Rangel is presently the supervisory interpreter for the United States District Court of New Jersey. She is also a consultant to the Administrative Office of the New Jersey Courts, and an adjunct professor at New York University in the Spanish-English Court Interpreter Certificate Program and at Montclair State University, where she is also a member of the Paralegal Advisory Board. She is originally from Cuba where she was trained as a Pharmacist. She received her Certification as a Spanish Interpreter from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in 1980, and has been working as a court and conference interpreter. Her work as a translator includes publications to assist Spanish-speaking litigants. She is affiliated with the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the Federal Court Clerks Association and is a member of the American Translators Association.


Untangling Legalese: Maximizing Clarity in the Translation of Pleadings into English
Joe McClinton

You’ve drafted your translation as faithfully as you can, and the pleading still reads like gibberish. Where do you go from here?  We can’t gloss over real failings in the original, but we can avoid making matters worse.

By long tradition, pleadings are often couched in exceptionally complex language. Nevertheless, the translator does have a variety of options available for reflecting these complexities. After a discussion of a few general issues and principles that apply to translating pleadings from many Western European-based legal systems into English, this hands-on session will present practical techniques for unraveling convoluted structures in English translations and making arguments clearer, without unduly compromising the meaning or rhetorical flavor of the original. Participants are encouraged to send short, unpolished English drafts of particularly tangled pleading language from their own experience to the presenter at joe@jmctrans.com for possible workshops within the session. (The roots of problems and their solutions are often more evident from a raw, semi-literal draft than from a polished translation.)

Joe McClinton has been a professional translator for over 25 years (German, French, Italian, and Spanish>English), and currently specializes in legal, financial, and public-relations texts, as well as general-readership texts in the arts, history, and earth science. He has taught German>English translation for the past seven years at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and has produced some 20 published translations of books and interactive CD-ROMs from French and Italian. His translation of Vincent Courtillot’s Evolutionary Catastrophes was published by Cambridge University Press in 1999, and he was the lead English translator for the onsite exhibits at the Vulcania volcanological park in the French Massif Central, under the editorship of an international team of volcanologists.


Enhancing Retention for Consecutive Interpreting
Janis Palma

The consecutive mode poses a particular challenge for many judiciary interpreters because of the retention element. Interpreters may find themselves sacrificing length of rendition to preserve accuracy. However, interrupting a witness may have other consequences, such as influencing a trier-of-fact’s perception of that witness’s truthfulness or knowledge of the facts to which s/he is testifying. Expanding our retention capabilities undoubtedly enhances our overall performance.

This non-language specific presentation addresses the two most common resources judiciary interpreters have available to enhance their short-term memory retention: note-taking and visualization. As part of the presentation, participants will receive handouts with practical exercises they can take home.

Janis Palma has been a federally-certified, English>Spanish judiciary interpreter since 1981. She worked as an independent contractor for over 20 years in different states, including Texas, New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C. Her experience also includes conference work in the private sector and seminar interpreting for the U.S. State Department. In 2002, she joined the U.S. District Courts in Puerto Rico as a full-time staff interpreter. She has also been a consultant for various higher education institutions, professional associations, and government agencies on judiciary interpreting and translating issues. Her most recent consultant contract was with the National Center for State Courts as an Examiner for the Federal Certification Examination Project (2001-2002). She has a number of publications on judiciary interpreting, including Primer for Judiciary Interpreters, Introduction to Judiciary Interpreting, and How to Work With Interpreters: A Handbook for the Legal Profession (available from NAJIT, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators).  Over the past 20 years, she has led workshops, participated in panel discussions, and offered lectures on judiciary interpreting ethics as well as on improving professional skills, particularly in consecutive interpreting. She may be contacted by e-mail at janispalma@att.net.